By Tzali Nislick
Last week we took a look at 10 players that were on my do not draft list, a strategy I have for every draft each year. I also think it’s equally important to go into drafts with players in mind that you must have for the season, and be okay with reaching a few spots to ensure you get them. Many of these players qualify as breakout candidates as well, but for the sake of consistency we’ll call it 10 players on my must-have list for this fantasy season.
*All rankings and stats are based on ESPN PPR scoring
1. Kyler Murray, QB – ARI
Kyler Murray definitely had his inconsistencies as a rookie last season. He scored over 20 points six times, but under 15 points six times as well. But that’s to be expected for a first year quarterback, and he still was able to finish as the QB8 overall for the season. He establishes a high floor with his rushing ability, as he finished top four in attempts, yards and touchdowns for quarterbacks last season, and now the Cardinals went out and got DeAndre Hopkins. In case you’ve never heard of him, he’s pretty good. Kenyan Drake returns for a full season after he exploded once he got traded to Arizona, and they addressed their offensive line issues by drafting Josh Jones in the third round. All around it’s a vastly improved offense from a year ago and considering the second year quarterbacks we’ve seen breakout in recent years, don’t be surprised if Kyler Murray continues the trend.
2. Joe Burrow, QB – CIN
I could’ve easily chosen Drew Lock for my other quarterback “must-have” but I’ve already been hyping him up enough so let’s mix things up here. I think there’s something special brewing in Cincinnati. As someone who witnessed Joe Burrow tear up Alabama’s defense in person, I can assure you he’s every bit as good as advertised. I’m not going to talk about how he had the greatest college football season ever with over 5,600 yards and 60 touchdowns to win the Heisman, or how he went undefeated en route to a National Championship, or how he beat seven top-10 teams last year. I’m not going to do it. Instead, let’s talk about his situation with the Bengals in 2020. Although they still have one of the league’s worst rosters, the Bengals have an actually decent receiver core. AJ Green returns healthy (for now), Tyler Boyd has two straight 1,000 yard seasons and John Ross is still 25 years old and needs to prove himself in a contract year. Joe Mixon has flashed some receiving ability out of the backfield as well. So Burrow definitely has something to work with. The Bengals also will likely be chasing points again this season so they could be throwing a lot. I wouldn’t take Burrow as my starting fantasy quarterback this year, but his upside is tremendous and it’s enough to draft him as a backup. And at his QB19 ranking, he’s basically free.
3. Kenyan Drake, RB – ARI
Kenyan Drake might be the player I’m most excited about heading into 2020. Just look at what he did with the Cardinals after getting traded at the deadline last season; he averaged 19.9 fantasy points per game and he scored seven touchdowns in his last three games. He was the RB4 during his eight game stretch with Arizona and carried a lot of fantasy owners to championships with that finish. He played 79% of snaps last year with his new team and now David Johnson is gone so there’s little threat to Drake’s workload. The Cardinals should only improve in Murray and Kliff Kingsbury’s second season and now Drake has a full offseason with Arizona under his belt. He has RB1 potential and is someone I’m definitely targeting in fantasy this year.
4. Miles Sanders, RB – PHI
It took some time, but it seems like Miles Sanders finally took over the starting running back role late last season. After failing to receive 15 carries in a game through his first 11 contests, Sanders carried the ball 15 times in four of the last five games last season. In those five games, he averaged 20.5 fantasy points per game on 4.8 YPC. Jordan Howard is gone, so that eliminates competition for carries and I don’t buy Boston Scott’s productive finish from a year ago. Sanders also has a solid floor thanks to his receiving upside, catching at least three passes in 11 games last year, and 23 in his last five. The Eagles return one of the league’s strongest offensive lines and Sanders should be ready to breakout in his second year. He seems like the perfect RB2 target this season, even with the loss of Brandon Brooks.
5. Jonathan Taylor, RB – IND
Like Miles Sanders last season, it may take a bit for Jonathan Taylor to take over the starting role this year. Marlon Mack has been productive over the last two seasons, but in the end head coach Frank Reich will realize that Taylor is simply the better player. In three years at Wisconsin, Taylor ran for 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns, and that’s with the BIG 10 boasting some of the country’s best defenses. The Badgers always provided Taylor with a strong offensive line and that will be no different in Indianapolis, as the Colts enter the season with the NFL’s best unit. The Colts also had the fifth run-heaviest offense in the league last year, and while they improved at the quarterback position with Philip Rivers I don’t see them letting him sling it 35 times a game at age 38. Although Taylor may start the year second on the depth chart, it’s a matter of when, not if, he takes over the lead role. And when he does, watch out.
6. Robert Woods, WR – LAR
Robert Woods may be one of the most boring players in the NFL, but he sure is both consistent and criminally underrated. Over the last two years Woods has finished as the WR11 and WR14 respectively, and he finished as high as he did last season despite only catching two touchdowns. And although he’s never been a huge touchdown guy, I’d still bank on him scoring more in 2020 than he did last year. The Rams traded Brandin Cooks over the offseason, so now it’s just Woods and Cooper Kupp as the only proven wide receivers on the depth chart, so I’d expect even more volume for the USC product, who’s already seen 130 targets, 85 receptions and 1,100 yards in back to back seasons. And in these last two years, Woods has more fantasy points than Odell Beckham Jr., Chris Godwin, Amari Cooper, Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, DJ Moore and Adam Thielen. Woods ended last year on an incredibly hot stretch that saw him catching six or more passes in six of his final seven games while averaging 19.2 fantasy points per game in that span. He may not be the sexiest WR target, but he’ll give you consistency week to week and his WR17 ranking is far too low for me.
7. Calvin Ridley, WR – ATL
I think this is the year for Calvin Ridley to fully breakout. He built on a solid, yet inconsistent rookie campaign in 2018 to actually provide one of the safer floors at his position in 2019. There was a nine game stretch last year where Ridley had at least four receptions in eight games, at least 70 yards or a touchdown in seven games and at least 13 fantasy points in seven games as well. This was all before an abdominal injury ended his season prematurely, but prior to getting hurt, Ridley was the WR14 for the season. Austin Hooper is gone, so Ridley’s role as the number two pass catcher behind Julio Jones is secure and should only get more plentiful. Speaking of Jones, let’s take a look at the two Alabama products’ stats per 16 games through their first two NFL seasons:
- 73.38 receptions
- 1,190.07 yards
- 9.93 touchdowns
- 15.98 fantasy PPG
- 70.07 receptions
- 930.76 yards
- 9.38 touchdowns
- 13.92 fantasy PPG
These are somewhat similar, and Julio Jones is one of the greatest receivers to play this game. For what it’s worth, Jones also started 13 more games in his first two seasons than Ridley did. I’m not saying Ridley will be just as good as Jones, because few are. But the stats are close enough to point toward Ridley taking yet another leap for his third NFL season. ESPN currently has him ranked as the WR20 but his upside is much greater.
8. Antonio Brown, WR – FA
Okay hear me out here; instead of spending a late round flier on a deep sleeper who’s unproven and may or may not break out, why not use that pick on Antonio Brown? He’s a proven superstar and will still make an impact on any team he plays for. And he won’t be unsigned the whole year. I’m actually willing to bet everything I own that he gets signed before Week 1. So if you’re drafting in July for some reason or if Brown remains unsigned through August, I’m still using a late round pick on him. It’s simple: Brown has more league-winning potential in the 9th round than say, Diontae Johnson would in the 12th (even though we love Diontae). There’s a strong likelihood that he won’t be a free agent for much longer, so pick him up now before his ADP skyrockets if (or when) the Seahawks sign him.
9. Mark Andrews, TE – BAL
Simply put, Mark Andrews was a beast last season. He broke out alongside Lamar Jackson to deliver a TE5 fantasy campaign and was TE2 in non-PPR scoring formats. Andrews led his position with 10 touchdowns and was fifth with 852 receiving yards. I believe that lands him firmly in the elite tight end tier, especially as Lamar Jackson continues to develop as a passer. The only pass catching addition the Ravens made over the offseason third round rookie Devin Duvernay, a bigger threat to Willie Snead than to Andrews. Otherwise, they actually created more opportunities for Andrews by trading Hayden Hurst (finally) to the Falcons. Although I believe Andrews is in the elite tier of tight ends, he’s ranked just 61st overall in Mike Clay’s Top 300 rankings, making him a much better value than Kelce or Kittle in the second or third round. I don’t usually bite on tight ends in the middle rounds but Andrews is worth the pick given the scarcity of elite tight end production in fantasy football.
10. Noah Fant, TE – DEN
I feel like I constantly find myself hyping up the Broncos, but I just can’t help myself. Noah Fant had a strong rookie season, especially for a tight end. He finished as the TE16 and caught 40 passes for 562 yards and three touchdowns. For reference, Rob Gronkowski caught 42 passes for 546 yards in his rookie campaign and George Kittle had 43 receptions for 515 yards and two scores in his first year. The aforementioned Mark Andrews caught 34 balls for 552 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season as well, so plenty of the game’s best tight ends posted similar numbers to Fant in their respective debuts. This leads me to believe that the former first round pick is headed for a breakout sophomore campaign. While the additions of Jerry Jeudy and Melvin Gordon may cut into his short/intermediate targets, Fant should still have plenty of opportunities to make an impact after a Covid-19 shortened offseason. At his current ranking of TE11, he could prove to be one of the biggest steals this year and he’s someone I’m definitely targeting if I choose to go the route of a late-round tight end.