Now that free agency, the NFL Draft, and the schedule release have all passed, we have our initial layout in place in team depth charts and strength of schedule. With that, we want to take a look at some players across the fantasy landscape that are either polarizing, over or undervalued, or just interesting topics of discussion and walk through some pros and cons of where those players are regarded in fantasy circles.
Week 1 Age: 27.6
Contract: Signed through 2023 (potential out year after 2020)
Week 1 Age: 23.4
Contract: Signed through 2021 (RFA)
Week 1 Age: 24.9
Contract: Signed through 2021
Typically, we have had an image of the player’s average draft position over time here, but since we are covering three players at once, I did not want to add a wall of images. A year ago at this time, DeVante Parker was left for dead. After four years of failing to live up to his first-round pedigree, Parker had fallen to the lowest ADP of his career, being selected on average at No. 154 overall (WR68). As an undrafted free agent a year ago, Preston Williams was more of a flyer, with an ADP of 182 overall (WR78). Entering his second season, Mike Gesicki held an ADP of 159 overall (TE19). After strong pockets of production from all in 2019, the trio of Miami pass catchers have all increased their market value. Parker is now being selected at No. 70 overall (WR34), Williams at No. 106 (WR51), and Gesicki No. 115 (TE13).
All of these players are tethered together, but let us start off with Williams since weaving through the tapestry of this trio gets the most interesting around the time he was lost for the season a year ago. As a former four-star recruit to Tennessee, Williams played just one and a half seasons at Tennessee before transferring to Colorado State. After sitting out the 2017 season, Williams followed CSU star wideouts Rashard Higgins and Michael Gallup by posting a 96-1,345-14 line in 2018, but was not even offered a combine invite.
During his rookie season, Williams did nothing but improve. After playing just 41% of the snaps in Week 1, he played 84% of the team snaps over the next seven weeks, leading the Dolphins in targets (60), receptions (32), and receiving yardage (428) through the opening eight games of the season to go along with three touchdowns. His final game played was one of his best yet. After catching 5-of-9 targets for 72 yards and two touchdowns in Miami’s first victory of the season in Week 9, Williams tore his ACL on a punt return in the fourth quarter and was subsequently lost for the remainder of his rookie season.
Williams is currently on schedule right now to tentatively be ready to return to the lineup in Week 1. ACL recovery has been expedited in recent seasons. Just a year ago, we saw both Will Fuller and Cooper Kupp active in Week 1 after suffering ACL injuries in Week 8 and Week 10 the season prior. Williams did also tear his ACL in his senior season in high school, but I could not confirm if the current injury was to the same knee or not. While Kupp and Fuller are positive tales on getting back on the field quickly after ACL injuries, someone such as Marqise Lee (who suffered an ACL tear in the 2018 preseason) is still a cautionary tale that not everyone recovers at the same rate.
Through eight games of his rookie season, Williams had scored 90.8 PPR points, the most by an undrafted rookie free agent receiver through his first eight games of his rookie season over the past 10 years. He was 23rd in overall scoring among all rookie wideouts over that span through eight games. Williams was on his way to being the focal point of the Miami passing game. Here are the overall splits for the Miami pass catchers through Week 9.
The anemic Josh Rosen had 128 dropbacks over this same window. When accounting for the time all three pass catchers spent together while playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick versus Rosen over this span, Williams received a 21.1% share of team targets, while Parker was at 20.6% and Gesicki was at 12.0%. But after Williams was lost for the season, Parker and Gesicki exploded.
Parker and Gesicki really ramped up once Williams was lost for the season. Parker averaged 9.5 targets per game in the final eight weeks after 6.5 per game prior. Gesicki received 7.3 targets per game over the final eight games after seeing 3.9 per game prior.
The Fitzmagic Factor
We also never saw Rosen take another drop back for the remainder of the season, as Fitzpatrick took complete control of the job. Fitzpatrick’s hyper-aggressive nature has been attached to some strong fantasy spurts throughout his career. He is the type of fantasy passer we love for target-rich options, especially for vertical, downfield targets such as Parker. Over those final eight weeks of the season, Parker ranked third in the NFL in targets of 20-plus yards downfield (17) while tied for the league lead in receptions (11) and leading all wideouts in touchdowns (four) on those targets.
(As a sidebar, what my Dynasty teams would not give to have Mike Williams play one season with Fitzpatrick. But I digress.)
I do not want to completely discount Parker’s explosion down the stretch as he put up huge games against Buffalo (7-135-0) while catching 5-of-5 targets for 80 yards in coverage of Tre’Davious White in that game and New England (8-137-0) while catching 7-of-9 targets for 119 yards in coverage of Stephon Gilmore. That said, there is no doubt that Fitzpatrick’s style of play did lend a hand in maximizing the skill set of Parker more so than Ryan Tannehill did over his early career.
Over that same span, Gesicki was tied for the league lead among tight ends in targets 20-plus yards downfield (10) and ranked second in both receptions (five) and touchdowns (two) on those targets. Over those weeks, Gesicki had an average depth of target of 11.6 yards, which was fourth in the league at his position.
With Gesicki, I do not want to underweight the inherently slow burn of the tight end position in the NFL. The slow start he had over the first 23 games of his career is something common we see at his position. The fact that he popped at all in year two is a positive, but he also did reach 35 receiving yards in just three of those eight games without Williams active, which is why I believe we have seen more caution expressed in his ascension than we typically would from a breakout at his position.
Gesicki comes from a long line of recent Penn State players to smash the combine. For his position, he’s a 98th percentile athlete in my model and ranks in the 95th percentile or higher across the board in nearly every measurable area at Player Profiler. He improved his reception and touchdown output from the year prior in every one of his seasons in college. On top of that, he is really a glorified receiver. Gesicki ran a league-high 71.1% of his routes from the slot last season for all tight ends.
We still have quite a ways to go to label Gesicki the next Jimmy Graham in that regard and have a number of cautionary tales of following slot-use-first tight ends in Jared Cook, Coby Fleener and Eric Ebron, but we want our tight ends running pass routes over blocking as much as possible.
Circling back to Fitzpatrick, the reason I bring him up here in the breakouts for all parties involved is that there is an expiration date on him being the starting quarterback for the Dolphins after Miami selected Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 5 selection in this year’s draft. From 2008-2019, there were 23 passers selected in the top-10. Those 23 passers averaged 12.6 starts as rookies with 20 of the 23 players starting double-digit games. The three that did not were Jake Locker (zero), Patrick Mahomes (one), and Jared Goff (seven starts).
Tagovailoa is coming off a significant hip injury that should have Miami taking precautionary measures, but the telling sign will be if Miami actually makes him inactive or not. If the Dolphins say he is available to dress and be one play away from potentially entering a game, then the clock in which he inevitably takes over has already started.
While Tagovailoa may be an ultimate upgrade at the position in the long run, we do not know how his style of play meshes with the pieces here. We also can expect short term limitations. Since 2001, there have been 75 different first-year quarterbacks that started five or more games as rookies. Just seven wide receivers have produced top-12 scoring seasons attached to those passers and 22 have had top-24 seasons. At tight end, just 12 tight ends have produced at top-12 levels attached to those quarterbacks. 43 of those were first-round quarterbacks. Of those 43, there were six WR1 seasons and 13 WR2 seasons while there were eight TE1 scoring seasons attached to those first-round passers.
Flip the Script and the Run Game
One final note here as we bring this home. While the Miami pass catchers got a boost from Fitzpatrick, they also had a significant boost from in-game environments. Trailing for 60.9% of their snaps (sixth-highest), Miami was fourth in the league in passing plays run in 2019 (671). They also ranked ninth in passing rate (60%) in neutral game scripts outside of the fourth quarter. As a byproduct, Parker was second among all NFL wideouts in routes run (635) while Gesicki ranked third in the NFL in routes run (521) among tight ends.
Miami is only forecasted for 6.2 wins in 2020 so overall game script should still favor passing volume here, but we should expect the Dolphins to squeeze more out of their backfield this season and have more balance offensively than a year ago.
No team got fewer production from their backfield in 2019 than the Dolphins. Miami backs collectively ranked dead last in touches (22.9) and yards from scrimmage (89.4) per game while averaging 3.9 yards per touch and scoring five total touchdowns. Fitzpatrick actually led the team with 243 rushing yards and their top back in yardage was Mark Walton with 201 yards on the ground.
With Jordan Howard and Matt Breida added to the backfield to go along with linemen Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt drafted in the top-40 picks and Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras added via free agency, Miami should be able to at least generate more production from their backfield than they did a year ago, even if they are still a bottom-shelf team.
As usual in bringing things home, in dynasty, every player has potential to be both a buy and sell at the same time. You just have to find the proper context in your league on which he is valued per owner. Startup ADP and cost is not going to be an exact market for you with team context a driving force in established leagues, but here are the buy and sell point suggestions using that as guideline pending which side you fall on.
2020 Rookie Pick Value: Lower Second (2.08-2.12)
RB Value Targets: Alexander Mattison, Kerryon Johnson, Ronald Jones
WR Value Targets: Sterling Shepard, Jamison Crowder, Sammy Watkins
TE Value Targets: Tyler Higbee, Mike Gesicki, Irv Smith Jr.
2020 Rookie Pick Value: High Second (2.01-2.04)
RB Value Targets: Melvin Gordon, Le’Veon Bell, Kareem Hunt
WR Value Targets: Christian Kirk, Jarvis Landry, Michael Gallup
TE Value Targets: Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, Darren Waller
2020 Rookie Pick Value: Lower Second (2.08-2.12)
RB Value Targets: Alexander Mattison, Kerryon Johnson, Ronald Jones, Tarik Cohen
WR Value Targets: Sterling Shepard, Jamison Crowder, Sammy Watkins, Anthony Miller
TE Value Targets: Tyler Higbee, Irv Smith Jr.