Fantasy football: 2020 bounce-back and bust candidates for each position

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Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to throw during the first half against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Cleveland. (David Dermer/AP)

The NFL calendar never sleeps and neither does fantasy football. The scouting combine will be here before we know it, followed by free agency, and finally the NFL Draft.

Smart fantasy owners never stop preparing. That includes projecting players who have a high probability of rebounding from poor seasons compared to those who might not live up to expectations.

Below is a fantasy bounce-back and bust candidate from each position group.

RUNNING BACK

Bounce Back: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

It won’t take much for David Johnson to bounce back from a disastrous 2019.

The first six weeks of the season were terrific, as Johnson averaged 20.21 fantasy points a game and totalled two touchdowns. Then he got injured and was an afterthought the rest of the way, even when the former fantasy darling returned to the field. Johnson finished as a RB37 in PPR formats with an uncertain future.

This 28-year-old is clearly not a part of Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury’s vision and is expected to be cut or traded with a base salary of over $10 million looming for 2020.

Johnson’s fantasy relevance obviously depends on where he ends up. If the former Pro Bowl dual-threat back can land on a team with a solid offensive line then there’s a strong possibility for a comeback.

Honourable Mention: Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

Bust: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

What a dominant campaign it was for Derrick Henry. Built like a house with feet, the six-foot-three power back rumbled to 1,540 rushing yards and 18 combined touchdowns. He finished second amongst RBs in standard fantasy scoring and fifth in PPR.

So why is the Titans’ MVP a bust risk?

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs past Baltimore Ravens strong safety Chuck Clark (36) during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff game. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Despite his rampage, Henry is still one dimensional as a straight-ahead bulldozer who adds little value in the passing game. His 247-pound frame seeks out contact, and the fear is that those consistent violent collisions coupled with heavy workload will cause the NFL’s rushing leader to break down. Henry will is still likely going to be a very good fantasy producer, but not one that would live up to the expectations of a top-four first-round draft pick.

Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott and maybe even Aaron Jones are all running backs to select ahead of Henry. The very end of the opening round and below in 12-team leagues should be the current draft ranking for him.

Dishonourable Mention: Kenyon Drake, Arizona Cardinals

QUARTERBACK

Bounce Back: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

It was the season of missed expectations for the Browns, who were hoping to thrive off of Mayfield breaking the rookie passing touchdown record in 2018. Alas, a calamity of errors led by an overwhelmed rookie head coach delivered a disastrous sophomore jinx for the former Heisman Trophy winner.

So, which is the real Baker? The tools are still there and the X factor now is with another rookie coach in Kevin Stefanski to reprogram him. It’ll be the pieces around No. 6 that will decide his fate. Cleveland needs an upgrade at both offensive tackle positions and a competent play-caller. Both are possible, and would allow the confident gunslinger to regain his swagger.

The hype train has long left the Browns’ station and taking the pressure off will hopefully allow Mayfield to focus and better utilize the plethora of weapons at his disposal. Mayfield could be a steal late in fantasy drafts (or maybe even undrafted) with the upside to be a backend QB1.

Honourable Mention: Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

Bust: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

The old cliché “catching lightning in a bottle” definitely applies to Ryan Tannehill’s incredible ride in Tennessee from Week 7 onward.

The question becomes is it reasonable to expect Tannehill to perform at a top-three fantasy quarterback level like he did over that 10-game stretch? The man did average 22.50 fantasy points over that span. Throw away the miniscule passing yardage in the playoffs where the game script was solely focused on handing off to Derrick Henry. Tannehill displayed more than enough to earn a big-dollar contract somewhere next season.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) scores a touchdown on a one-yard run against the Houston Texans on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (James Kenney/AP)

This year proved that the Texas A&M alum can still sling it, but we also saw the dangers of overpaying a quarterback who got hot. Exhibit A is Nick Foles, who accepted a fat cheque from Jacksonville off a Super Bowl MVP with the Eagles. In fairness, he was sidelined from an injury in the opener, but flamed out quickly after returning.

It’s only natural that some regression will occur for the 31-year old Tannehill, but he’ll remain a high QB2 option for fantasy owners if he remains with the Titans. Grab Tannehill late in a draft if you can, but don’t get hooked and anticipate superstar numbers again.

Dishonourable Mention: Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

WIDE RECEIVER

Bounce Back: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Out of sight, out of mind, but let’s track where wide receiver A.J. Green lands in 2020. He didn’t play a snap for the Bengals because of injury last season and at least that means his 31-year-old legs got plenty of rest. If Green lands with a team that has a competent quarterback, there’s no reason to think he can’t reach his seventh 1,000-plus yard season.

Honourable Mention: N’Keal Harry, New England Patriots

Bust: Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Godwin will have an adequate 2020 campaign, but he’ll be considered a fantasy bust based on how high he’ll be drafted. The three-year veteran finished only behind Michael Thomas as the best PPR fantasy wide receiver this season. Can we really expect him to repeat that?

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, left, runs after a reception past Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

The unpredictable performances of Jameis Winston, and overall uncertainty at quarterback for Tampa Bay, is concerning. Plus, there’s only so much ball to go around with a healthy Mike Evans and the late emergence of Breshad Perriman cannot be overlooked.

Dishonourable Mention: Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

TIGHT END

Bounce Back: Evan Engram, New York Giants

A foot injury slapped Engram to the injured reserve and derailed what was setting up to be a breakout campaign. In the eight games the third-year pro did play in, he displayed the athleticism fantasy owners drool over in a TE1.

The upside for Engram seems limitless as he’ll have a full off-season with quarterback Daniel Jones and Joe Judge, the new Giants head coach. Coming over from New England, a team that loves to utilize the tight end, Judge could deploy Engram as a major piece of his offence.

Honourable Mention: Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts; T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions

Bust: Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

Tight end is an incredibly thin group for fantasy football owners, so we can’t be too choosy. On the surface, Mark Andrews appears to be a candidate as the third TE drafted behind perennial studs Travis Kelce and George Kittle. However, a closer look shows a path to significant regression over his top-five fantasy position finish.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates with wide receiver Marquise Brown (15) celebrates after Andrews scored a 39-yard touchdown during the first half against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Cleveland. (David Richard/AP)

In 15 outings, Andrews recorded single-digit fantasy points on six occasions, and failed to surpass 14.90 points three other times. The sophomore did pop for some excellent production, of course, but remains at the mercy of Lamar Jackson’s sporadic passing and run-first approach. There’s also his pair of tight-end teammates to worry about.

Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst ate away a combined 670 yards and four touchdowns that could’ve belonged to Andrews. The 24-year-old may be the leader of this committee, but it’s still a committee. There are just too many variables for me to buy into the hype of Andrews being a true elite TE1.

Dishonourable Mention: Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles; Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals

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