2020 Fantasy Football Preview: AFC East draft targets

NFL insider Michael Lombardi joins Follow The Money to discuss what he thinks the Cam Newton signing means for the New England Patriots chances in the AFC East.

With the 2020 NFL season fast approaching, so is the fantasy football draft season.

To help get you ready, Sportsnet’s Andy McNamara will break down a division position by position every Friday until the start of the campaign.

First up: the AFC East.

QUARTERBACK

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Allen finished as a fantasy QB6 last season, ahead of Kyler Murray, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers. Even after coming in dead last for completion percentage, the quarterback’s mobility keeps him in the conversation as a mid-level starter.

Extra bonus points for Allen, who had a new toy added to the mix in wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

Cam Newton, New England Patriots

I know we’re all excited about Newton’s return, but at 31 and having taken a ton of punishment, what can we really expect from the veteran?

Here’s where Newton ranked overall as a fantasy quarterback in recent years:

2016: QB17
2017: QB2
2018: QB12

That 2018 season was when he suffered a serious shoulder injury, and last year he only appeared in two games. There are very real shoulder, ankle and overall wear-and-tear concerns with Newton.

Now Cam can still chuck it, but part of what made him such a fantasy superstar was the running ability and scoring with his feet. The Patriots would be crazy to have Newton consistently risk his body if they want him to last the full 16-game schedule plus playoffs.

Taking away the 2011 first-overall pick’s legs leaves us with a quarterback who has only thrown for more than 25 touchdowns once in his career and does tend to turn the ball over. I’m not saying don’t draft Newton, but if you do make sure to have a solid backup, just in case.

Sam Darnold, New York Jets

It’s a prove-it year for Darnold, who was a QB14 from Week 6 onward in 2019 after he missed time with mono. A full, healthy season under the same offensive system will do him good, but the underwhelming options at receiver limits any upside.

I’m not comfortable having Darnold as a fantasy starter.

Ryan Fitzpatrick/Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

This is a timeshare situation between the veteran and future franchise QB hopeful. That automatically eliminates both Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa as starting options in re-draft leagues.

Tua is obviously someone to look at in dynasty/keeper formats. Fitz-Magic’s value comes as an early-season plug-and-play quarterback in DFS contests.

RUNNING BACK

New York Jets

The Jets take top spot here because they’re the only club in this position that doesn’t fall victim to a backfield-by-committee situation. Le’Veon Bell is no doubt the bell-cow back, but he’ll suffer from head coach Adam Gase’s career blind spot to the running game.

Bell’s 66 receptions in 2019 popped him over the 1,000 yards from scrimmage mark. This gives the former Steeler the highest ceiling in PPR formats as a RB2.

Buffalo Bills

I was excited about Devin Singletary’s possibilities as a sophomore, but then Buffalo drafted Zach Moss in the third round.

Moss is more of a bulldozer-type rusher, and we can’t forget about Josh Allen’s scrambling ability near the goal line. This screams of situations where Singletary does all the work to get close to the end zone only to have the rookie or his quarterback vulture away touchdowns.

For these reasons, I have to downgrade the 22-year-old Singletary to an upside RB3/Flex.

New England Patriots

The lack of a fullback last season really took the bite out of New England’s running attack. Sony Michel rumbled for fewer yards than he did as a rookie and is a non-factor when it comes to receiving.

Technically the backup, it was James White who stood out amongst the pair. White was an RB18 in PPR compared to Michel’s rating of 31st, and Michel was only five spots higher than his teammate in standard.

The addition of two fullback-built tight ends in the draft may look to serve in the vacated role of James Develin to help get things back on track. Even if that happens, there is still Rex Burkhead lurking in the weeds to steal touches.

My advice: Flex-roster role Michel in standard leagues and White for PPR.

patriots-sony-michel-dolphins
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel, centre, runs from Miami Dolphins linebackers Calvin Munson, left, and Andrew Van Ginkel, right, in the first half on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Miami Dolphins

I love what Miami has done at the running back position from a “real-life” football perspective. The addition of veterans Jordan Howard and Matt Breida behind an improved offensive line gives the Dolphins a respectable running tandem. The problem is that this looks like an even-split timeshare possibility.

I could see Howard and Jordan both accumulating 700-800 yards on the ground, coupled with a decent amount of catches. To me, that lines up to only bench depth on your fantasy roster.

WIDE RECEIVER

Buffalo Bills

The addition of Stefon Diggs means more to the fantasy-football growth of Josh Allen and fellow wide receiver John Brown.

Brown was ranked 19th in standard formats in 2019 as the primary wideout. Diggs will demand attention from opposing defences, which means Brown should face secondary coverage. Both receivers are shaping up to be solid mid-tier WR2 options. Let others reach for Diggs and you scoop up Brown later.

Cole Beasley remains as a desperation PPR only play or a salary fill in for DFS contests.

New England Patriots

Cam Newton’s addition at quarterback certainly brightens the wide receiver fantasy possibilities in Foxboro compared to the unknown of Jarrett Stidham. However, with expected limited training camp interaction, it’s tough to decipher how the offence’s chemistry will be.

Julian Edelman should make life easy for Newton coming off a 153-target, 100-catch campaign. The 34-year old remains a back-end WR1 in PPR and just under that for standard.

Mohamed Sanu and N’Keal Harry are the real wild cards here.

Sanu’s top statistical production came in 2018 and that still landed him as only the 31st-best receiver in half-PPR. The talent is there, but he’s never eclipsed 838 yards. On the other side, Harry’s a physical freak at six-foot-four, 225 pounds.

After Edelman, I’d recommend taking a shot on acquiring the monster talent of Harry over Sanu’s safer floor.

Miami Dolphins

DeVante Parker is the story in South Beach after finally having a breakthrough season where he finished sixth in standard leagues and 11th in PPR. A healthy Preston Williams, Albert Wilson and ascending Mike Gesicki cutting into target share needs to be kept in mind, as well as the quarterback situation.

We know Ryan Fitzpatrick liked to find Parker, but will rookie Tua Tagovailoa once he enters the picture? I don’t like going all in on a one-year producer, so slotting the 27-year-old Parker in as a low WR2 or high WR3 feels about right.

Also, think about stashing Allen Hurns on your bench. If an injury occur, Hurns is a playmaker who could pay off.

Miami-Dolphins
Miami Dolphins centre Daniel Kilgore (67) congratulates wide receiver DeVante Parker (11) after Parker scored a touchdown during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

New York Jets

The Jets didn’t exactly heap a slew of weapons at the feet of Sam Darnold, did they?

While I loved free agent Breshad Perriman in Tampa Bay this past season as a complementary piece who exploded, he’s never been able to put it together as a No. 1. The former Ravens first-round draft choice falls into the WR3 range for me.

Possession receiver Jamison Crowder is, at most, a flex in PPR and Denzel Mims enters the NFL as a better dynasty/keeper add than someone to rely on in 2020.

TIGHT END

Miami Dolphins

Despite a pedestrian stat line, Mike Gesicki finished as a TE11 in his second NFL campaign. Yes, 570 receiving yards and five scores landed him as a starting level tight end in 12-team leagues.

The Penn State alum’s career progression puts him in line to be the best fantasy choice in the AFC East. My concern comes from whether there will be a drop-off in targets upon the inevitable debut of fifth-overall draft pick Tua Tagovailoa. If you miss out on the top-two tiers of tight ends in your draft, then securing Gesicki makes a lot of sense.

New York Jets

Chris Herndon seemed poised to be a breakout star in 2019, but in the end, he only played in a single game. Entering his third season, the former Miami Hurricane was developing chemistry with then-rookie Sam Darnold in 2018 and finished as a TE15.

I like the ceiling possibilities for Herndon, but he needs to be the second tight end on your roster.

New England Patriots

Wow, what a mess this group is! The Patriots’ likely starting tight end is Matt LaCosse, who ranked 57th at the position in fantasy production a year ago.

New quarterback Cam Newton did have success utilizing the tight end in Carolina, but the amount of competition for reps squashes any argument in favour of LaCosse. Rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are obviously in the organization’s plans, and Ryan Izzo is still floating around. Then there’s Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, James White and Mohamed Sanu to contend with.

This is a long way of saying don’t select a Patriots tight end.

Buffalo Bills

Sophomore Dawson Knox is the lead dog in the Bills’ tight-end room, but Tyler Kroft is good enough to split the workload. In 15-games, Knox was only targeted 50 times in 2019. The addition of Stefon Diggs and the fact Josh Allen likes to run makes No. 88 a no-go on my fantasy roster.

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