I’m always looking for a good deal. Whether it be car insurance, clothes, a gas station to fill up at, or a player who’s free-falling in fantasy football drafts, I’m a sucker for a good sale. This is my second annual installment of Underperformers to Target. I wrote this article last offseason and have a lot of fun finding players with large ADP-to-production discrepancies. I highlight players that I expected to be good buys after disappointing regular seasons, without trying to focus too much on injured players. Obviously, Christian McCaffrey and Courtland Sutton didn’t live up to their preseason ADP, but you won’t be getting them at a discount next year. What I do for my selected players is highlight their 2020 ADP and their end-of-the-year finish in PPR leagues based on FantasyPro’s data. These underperformers make for great buy-low options in 2021.
Lamar Jackson (ADP QB2, end-of-season QB9)
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of Lamar Jackson. I love what his style of play does for a fantasy football roster. Combining a low-end RB1 and a low-end QB1 into one player is essentially a cheat code. In a game where running quarterbacks are valuable, why not secure the best? Jackson had a tumultuous season that is causing a lot of people to forget how dominant he can be.
Heading into this season Jackson said that “I doubt I’m going to be carrying the ball a lot going on further into the future.” Most people shook that off as the reigning MVP had just showcased his ability as one of the best pure runners in NFL history a few months prior. Well, that soundbite from Jackson ended up being the case to start the year. Jackson averaged 8.2 carries for just 47.6 yards per game over the Ravens’ first five games. But, they were 4-1 during that stretch so there was no reason to switch up their gameplan.
Fast forward a few weeks though, and the Ravens were suddenly 6-5. So the Ravens reverted to the same gameplan that made them the 2019 top-seed in the AFC. To close out the season, Jackson averaged 11.2 carries for 86 yards with four rushing touchdowns throughout five straight wins. Jackson averaged 27.67 fantasy points per game over that stretch and an impressive 11:3 TD:INT ratio.
Another promising sign is that Jackson was a substantially better player with electric running back J.K. Dobbins as the lead back. Check out my recent article for a deeper dive into Lamar Jackson’s 2021 expectations.
Note: There was no other quarterback that was abhorrently below their ADP that I would recommend drafting in 2021. I will update and re-publish this article before the season starts in the event that a free agent or trade lands anyone else on my list.
Ezekiel Elliott (ADP RB3, end-of-season RB10)
For running backs underperformers, we’ll start with the obvious choice. In Week 5, Dak Prescott was carted off the field with a season-ending leg injury. With him, Ezekiel Elliott’s RB1 dreams also left the building. I was advocating to take Elliott with the 1.02 pick last offseason and still think he’d have finished as a top back if it weren’t for Prescott’s injury. If Dak Prescott stays in Dallas next year, I still recommend taking Elliott early. I’ve got him ranked at 1.06 this year and he should be a first round selection in most formats. Through the first four weeks of 2020, Elliott was RB4 behind just Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, and Dalvin Cook. For the remainder of the season, Elliott averaged just 10.8 fantasy points per game, or RB26.
As soon as the offensive woes for a Prescott-less Cowboys started, so did chatter about Elliott being washed up. While it’s true that the anemic offense hurt the All-Pro running back, his utilization for the rest of the season totally changed and was the biggest factor in his perceived regression.
|With Dak (4 games)||Without Dak (10 games)|
It’s incredible that he saw a boost in yards per carry, even while dealing with injuries. His volume is what took a big hit as the Cowboys offense sputtered to stay competitive. Prior to Prescott’s injury, the Cowboys were leading the league with 77.2 offensive plays per game. For the remainder of the season, they averaged 66.3 plays per game, a huge dropoff. Their average yards per play dropped from third-best 6.3 yards with Prescott to fourth-worst in the league behind only the Jets, Football Team, and the Bengals. Assuming that the Cowboys and Dallas are able to work out a deal for next year, Ezekiel Elliott should fall right back into the elite tier of running backs at just 25-years-old. People can continue to talk about his decline. I’ll be more than happy to pounce on him as one of my underperformers with a mid-first-round pick.
Joe Mixon (ADP RB8, end-of-season RB47)
Would you believe that Joe Mixon was the RB10 at the time of his injury? Sure, he may not have lived completely up to his ADP. But given his shortened preseason due to “migraines” and playing with a rookie quarterback, he was actually exceeding expectations. Mixon got off to a slow start in 2019 as well; RB36 through the first half of the season and then RB4 through the second half. A slow start to 2020 was expected again, but his soft fantasy playoff schedule was desirable. In the one top-10 matchup that Mixon had this season, he steamrolled the Jaguars for 181 scrimmage yards and three total touchdowns. Now, heading into his fifth year at just 24-years-old, Mixon is primed to be an RB1 behind a Joe Burrow-led offense.
Mixon has a tough ADP to project because it’ll be largely up to the drafter’s risk tolerance. If Mixon is falling outside of the first round, he’s an absolute steal in my opinion. Prior to the injury, Mixon was averaging 20.2 carries per game, which would come out to 232 on the year. Only Derrick Henry would have had more than that. The Bengals committed $48M to Mixon and I’d be happy taking him on volume alone as my RB1. He is not being lumped in with the other underperformers purely for his play, but more for the frustration he brought to managers in 2020.
Miles Sanders (ADP RB11, end-of-season RB22)
Miles Sanders was one of the most difficult players to roster this year in fantasy. He shot up draft boards after his incredible finish to his 2019 rookie campaign and didn’t live up to expectations this year. Before he got injured (Weeks 12-15), he was the RB4 and averaged 125.6 scrimmage yards and one touchdown per game. 2020 was a very different story. Four games were missed and he was limited with an injury in three others. Worst yet, he was only able to find pay dirt in four outings as the lowly Eagles failed to do much offensively. With Jalen Hurts supplanting Carson Wentz on the depth chart, this could be fantastic news for Sanders.
Due to Hurts’s late-season takeover and Sanders’s injuries, they were only able to play three games together in 2020. Over those three weeks though (Week 14-16), Sanders was the RB7, averaging 78.7 rushing yards and 24.7 receiving yards with three total touchdowns. That production over a full year would have had him finish as the RB4, behind only Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry. Surely, he will not be able to retain a touchdown rate of 1.0 per game, but even with a slight regression Sanders has all of the makings to be an RB1 next season.
Also, Boston Scott and Corey Clement are both unrestricted free agents. No free agent off the street will replace their 23-year-old second-round pick. While the Eagles’ quarterback and coaching concerns along with Sanders’s injury history may scare off some fantasy managers, I’m more than happy to buy and expect a return to elite status.
Chris Godwin (ADP WR6, end-of-season WR38)
Chris Godwin may have had the biggest value drop of any player in fantasy football this year. He was being touted (prematurely and incorrectly) as the dynasty WR1 by a lot of pundits during the 2019 season. I never got on board with him being ranked above some big-name receivers. Still, I had him as a middling WR1 for 2020. After a solid sophomore campaign where he corralled seven touchdowns, he exploded for 1,333 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2019. He finished as the WR2 that year behind only Michael Thomas.
Godwin received a nice quarterback upgrade this year. Tom Brady should have locked Godwin in for another top-10 finish. His crisp route-running and vice-like hands seemed like a prototypical Brady-favorite. Well, he missed four games to injury and was shaking it off in many others. The frustrating part? His per-game output of 14.6 points was ranked as the 22nd-best wide receiver in 2020, well below his projection. His catch rate with Brady was a career-high 77.4%, but his yards per reception hit an all-time low at just 12.9. The easy excuse for this dropoff is that his broken finger caused some issues.
But Godwin, like a lot of players in this article, showed some promise at the end of the season. Through his first 10 games, he averaged just 11.3 yards per reception on 6.8 targets per game. Over his final two weeks, he was targeted eight times per game with an average of 21.7 yards per reception and three touchdowns to boot. He carried that momentum into the playoffs where he just snared five catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. Godwin showed his ceiling in 2019 as an elite wide receiver. With a projected ADP in the third round in 2021, I’ll gladly buy-low. I hope and expect that he will return to form.
D.J. Chark (ADP WR23, end-of-season WR41)
This is going to be the easiest of the underperformers to do a write-up on. I can sum up in two words: Trevor Lawrence. I can do it in two different words too: Urban Meyer. But in all seriousness, D.J. Chark burst onto the scene in 2019, starting the season on waivers in most fantasy formats and finishing as the WR16. Playing with Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew, Chark posted solid numbers every week and looked to be quarterback-proof. Well, Doug Marrone and the Jaguars tested that “quarterback-proof” notion by rolling out a carousel of Minshew, Jake Luton, and Mike Glennon this year. They proved that you need someone to throw the ball for a wide receiver to maintain any consistent value. It’s no shock that he’s lumped in with the underperformers, but at no fault of his own.
With the number one overall pick secured in this year’s draft, Jacksonville is almost guaranteed to take generational talent Trevor Lawrence and finally give Chark the quarterback that he deserves. Chark will head into 2021 as the top weapon on a revamped offense. Joe Burrow was able to transform Tyler Boyd and Made Tee Higgins a star. I’m expecting Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. to have similar breakouts. Chark’s speed and burst scores both land n the 93rd percentile and his ability to get downfield will be a great outlet for Lawrence as a rookie. After a down 2020 campaign, feel comfortable buying low on Chark as a reliable WR2.
Not only will the Jaguars add their future franchise quarterback in Lawrence, but the signing of Urban Meyer should also bring an exciting fold to this offense. The Jaguars ran the ball nearly 40% of the time while finishing with a 1-15 record. There’s nowhere to go but up from here, and Chark’s status as the team’s biggest weapon should help ensure that he bounces back in 2021.
Thanks for reading my article on underperformers to target!
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