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KUBIAK vs. ADP 2020: The Overrated

Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Football Outsiders' KUBIAK preseason fantasy projections are live on the site with a web tool to help you customize rankings and auction prices to fit the roster and scoring of your specific leagues. If you are the type of fantasy drafter who likes to prepare and stick to a draft board, the web tool will make it easy for you. If you prefer to play Moneyball and look for the best values relative to market prices, the included average draft positions (ADP) will help you decide how long to wait to draft your favorite fantasy sleepers.

To get you started on that latter track, we want to highlight some of the players that KUBIAK projects most differently from ADP. Today, we will run through the players overvalued by the market. Next week, we will hit on the undervalued ones.

Feel free to peruse some of the previous editions of this article, but take note that we overhauled our KUBIAK projection system this offseason, which may create some systematic differences in things like injury projections from previous years.

All referenced KUBIAK rankings are for players' positions and with PPR scoring.


Quarterbacks

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
KUBIAK Rank: 25
ESPN ADP: 18
Yahoo! ADP: 18

He may be the scapegoat for their Super Bowl loss, but Garoppolo has all the talent he needs to thrive in Kyle Shanahan's system, which could likely turn a much lesser player into a productive passer. The 49ers averaged 6.9 and 6.6 yards after the catch the last two seasons, both top-four rates in the last decade. Those extra yards only help Garoppolo's fantasy value, but I'm skeptical that he can continue to throw touchdowns at his 2019 rate with that same approach. Despite his modest total of 476 pass attempts, Garoppolo tied for first with nine passing touchdowns with 10 or more yards after the catch. He threw just 27 attempts into the end zone last season, the fourth fewest in football and fewest of a passer on a playoff team.

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
KUBIAK Rank: 23
ESPN ADP: 17
Yahoo! ADP: 19

The market expects Tannehill to regress from his third-place productivity of 22.5 fantasy points per game in 10 starts last year, but we are even more pessimistic. As Rivers McCown explained in this year's Football Outsiders Almanac, Tannehill's efficiency spike from his established career baseline follows a pattern demonstrated by players such as Joe Flacco in 2014, Andy Dalton in 2015, Case Keenum in 2017, and Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018. Those modern comps all saw their DVOA drop by 15.0% or more the next season. Tannehill's fantasy value cannot afford that type of decline in efficiency and touchdown rate. The Titans finished fourth in football with a 49.8% run ratio last season and are again poised to rely on Derrick Henry often, especially near the goal line, in 2020.

Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
KUBIAK Rank: 18
ESPN ADP: 12
Yahoo! ADP: 11

Wentz doesn't share Tannehill's talent uncertainty, but the downward trajectory of his passing DVOA from 23.8% in 2017 to 8.1% in 2018 to 0.1% in 2019 captures an often-overlooked ingredient of a quarterback's fantasy potential: the quality of players around him. Eventually, freshmen Jalen Reagor and John Hightower and effective redshirt freshman J.J. Arcega-Whiteside could become plus contributors at receiver. For now, they should have outsized roles for an Eagles team whose skill talent was already thin before Alshon Jeffery's foot injury put him at risk of starting the season on the PUP list. The Eagles might be best served by a continued heavy reliance on 12 personnel, a conservative strategy that curbs Wentz's fantasy potential by limiting his average depth of target (8.1 yards in 2019, 21st).


Running Backs

Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
KUBIAK Rank: 13
ESPN ADP: 9
Yahoo! ADP: 8

Chubb has the talent to meet his market value or even lead his position in fantasy scoring, but that will be difficult to do on a Browns team so loaded with weapons. Kareem Hunt returned from his first-half suspension in 2019 to average 5.4 carries and 5.6 targets per game, a workload justified by his 7.9% rushing DVOA and 14.2% receiving DVOA baseline in his three professional seasons. Chubb still paced the Browns backfield, but his 19.3 carries and 4.0 targets per game in the first half declined to 18.0 and 2.3 in the second half. That latter usage gives him a high floor. But without a heavy target volume, Chubb will likely need to score 12 or more touchdowns to return value on his first-round ADP.

Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
KUBIAK Rank: 39
ESPN ADP: 33
Yahoo! ADP: 36

All things being equal, Lindsay is a more efficient runner than his new teammate Melvin Gordon. Over the last two seasons, Lindsay has bested Gordon with 4.9 versus 4.4 yards per carry and a 9.0% versus 7.2% rushing DVOA. But in that same time, Gordon has been dramatically better than Lindsay in short-yardage situations. That should skew the Broncos' workload toward Gordon on third downs and in the red zone, situations with outsized fantasy importance because of their propensity for producing running back receptions and touchdowns.

J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
KUBIAK Rank: 51
ESPN ADP: 36
Yahoo! ADP: 31

Dobbins is the most extreme example, but pretty much all of the highly drafted rookie running backs have an inflated fantasy market value this season. That isn't because rookie rushers fail to make immediate impacts in the NFL -- Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders, Lindsay, and Chubb all finished in the top 20 at the position in their rookie seasons in 2018 and 2019. And it isn't because of the practice time players have lost to the pandemic. It's because, Clyde Edwards-Helaire aside, this year's best running back prospects landed in backfields with still-effective veterans. In Dobbins' case, that veteran is Mark Ingram, who enjoyed a career year in his first season in Baltimore with a 19.8% rushing DVOA that was second-best at the position among backs with 100 or more carries. Dobbins will likely shine in 2021 (when Ingram's $1.3-million dead cap hit makes him a cut candidate) or 2022 (when Ingram's contract expires). Just don't let Dobbins' career potential overrate his fantasy prospects for 2020.


Wide Receivers

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
KUBIAK Rank: 28
ESPN ADP: 12
Yahoo! ADP: 12

In relief of an injured Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges sabotaged Smith-Schuster's potential fantasy value last season. He almost certainly will rebound in 2020, but I think it is optimistic to assume that rebound will be to 2017-2018 levels. Smith-Schuster built his reputation as a slot receiver with Antonio Brown out wide. As a rookie, Smith-Schuster's 59.3% DVOA from the slot buoyed his overall 37.3% DVOA. He has landed much closer to neutral efficiency when he has worked out wide in his three NFL seasons, and he'll likely spend more time out wide since the Steelers seem to have again struck oil -- or maybe ore -- in undersized receiver Diontae Johnson. And that says nothing of 2020 additions Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron, who round out the most balanced set of receivers in Smith-Schuster's tenure with the team and will likely cut into his previous extreme target share.

A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
KUBIAK Rank: 22
ESPN ADP: 16
Yahoo! ADP: 14

As Ryan Tannehill's No. 1 receiver, Brown should feel the quarterback's regression the heaviest. And Brown will likely deal with his own regression this season as well. He averaged 4.4 more yards after the catch than expected by the depth of his targets, an unprecedented high rate for a receiver with 50 or more receptions. As a full-time starter in his second season, Brown should see more than his 84 rookie targets. But he will likely counterbalance his increase in volume with a big decrease in his per-catch efficiency.

Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
KUBIAK Rank: 47
ESPN ADP: 32
Yahoo! ADP: 30

In a more obvious case than that of the Browns, the Ravens also have too much talent for all of their skill players to excel in fantasy. And while it's easy to mentally transfer the departed Hayden Hurst's 40 targets to the now-healthy second-year receiver Brown, the Ravens gained too many rushing benefits from their top-five reliance on heavy personnel to suddenly go spread and throw a bunch of outside passes. We project Brown for a modest increase in catchable target share to 23.5%, which lands him between decent fantasy options Dede Westbrook and Emmanuel Sanders at 42nd at the position, but even lower in projected fantasy points because of the Ravens' extreme run ratio.

Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
KUBIAK Rank: 49
ESPN ADP: 38
Yahoo! ADP: 37

Cooks may replace DeAndre Hopkins on the Texans' depth chart, but he is not equipped to replace him as a featured target on a variety of pass routes. Over the last two seasons, Cooks is in the upper quartile of receivers with a 13.1-yard average depth of target. His new teammates Will Fuller and Kenny Stills have been even higher at 14.1 and 13.6 yards. Overlapping skill sets will likely prevent any of the three from reaching their fantasy ceiling. And while an injury may solve that problem, that isn't a point in Cooks' favor given the many concussions he has suffered in his career.


Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
KUBIAK Rank: 19
ESPN ADP: 6
Yahoo! ADP: 8

It is difficult to project a player like Gronkowski who unretires after a year off. Perhaps he is healthier now than he has been since the start of his NFL career. But our pessimism for Gronk's fantasy value does not reflect his projected ability as a player as much as the Buccaneers' over-abundance of skill talent. It may seem strange to label Tom Brady's favorite career target as a likely volume-loser, but tight ends have almost never been major contributors in Bruce Arians' offenses. In seven years of head coaching, Arians has never led an offense with a 20% or higher tight end target share. In 2019, half of all NFL teams reached that benchmark. If that trend continues, it will leave a very small pie for Gronkowski and O.J. Howard -- who has been excellent with a 25.3% career DVOA -- to share between them.

Jason Witten, Las Vegas Raiders
KUBIAK Rank: 47
ESPN ADP: 28
Yahoo! ADP: 13

Gronkowski's and Witten's rosy market values likely reflect their name brands. Beyond Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz at the top of the board, most of the best tight end fantasy options have just a year or two of premium production. Perhaps that is a reason to make an upside play on Gronk, but don't let nostalgia steer you to select Witten early in your fantasy drafts. Darren Waller earned his 117 targets -- second-most at the position -- with an excellent 22.0% DVOA in 2019, and rookie Foster Moreau performed even better (29.6%) on his handful of targets. As a result, we project Witten for just 26.5 targets for the Raiders this season, a total outside the top 40 at the position.


Kickers

Matt Gay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
KUBIAK Rank: 20
ESPN ADP: 7
Yahoo! ADP: 9

As is the case every year for an unstable position, we do not project a major difference between the best and worst fantasy kickers in 2020. If you expect Tom Brady to transform the Buccaneers into the league's best offense, then feel free to draft Gay and then replace him in-season if you need to. I'll simply point out that while he has one of the strongest legs in the sport, Gay also missed five of his 48 extra-point attempts and five of his 27 field goal attempts inside of 50 yards in his rookie season. We project him for the fifth-most total misses of presumed 2020 starters, and it wouldn't be a big surprise if he lost his starting job in a preseason battle with Elliott Fry.


Defenses

Houston Texans
KUBIAK Rank: 31
ESPN ADP: 26
Yahoo! ADP: 13

DeAndre Hopkins is not the only talent loss the Texans have suffered in Bill O'Brien's tenure as general manager. A year prior, they traded exceptional pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney for a similarly inexplicable package of Jacob Martin, Barkevious Mingo, and a third-round draft pick. Not surprisingly, the team's pass pressure suffered for Clowney's loss, finishing bottom-10 with a 27.6% pressure rate and 5.2% adjusted sack rate. J.J. Watt has bested his 2019 total of eight games played just once in the last four seasons. And the team opens the season with unstartable matchups against the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers the first three weeks. Look elsewhere to fill the position.

Comments

6 comments, Last at 13 Aug 2020, 9:45am

1 As Rivers McCown explained…

As Rivers McCown explained in this year's Football Outsiders Almanac, Tannehill's efficiency spike from his established career baseline follows a pattern demonstrated by players such as Joe Flacco in 2014, Andy Dalton in 2015, Case Keenum in 2017, and Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018.

None of those comps, though, capture a player who left a dumpster fire for a better team (nixes Flacco and Dalton) and then stayed with that team (nixes Keenum and Fitzpatrick).

Keenum and Fitzpatrick, indeed, left for raging dumpster fires. Fitzpatrick's situation was probably more akin to a burning garbage dump, really. Appropriate for a team once owned by Waste Management.

2 Mark Ingram

Ingram's cap hit is $5 million next year, not 1.3 million.  However, it's hard to see them cutting him if he keeps playing as well as last year (big if).

5 Chubb & Brown

As someone with both Chubb and A.J. Brown positioned as potential keepers in one league, I don't love this even as I cant't disagree with the analysis. I'm less concerned about Chubb because of CLE's upgrades on the line and because I think positive GL regression is going to hit hard (he was impossibly bad in goal-to-go situations last year, but he received one of the highest team shares of those carries in the league, something that didn't change even when Hunt arrived). You summarized Brown's concerns to a tee. He's facing numerous statistical headwinds this year that, unless he sees a dramatic uptick in volume, seem likely to contribute to a volatile and unpredictable fantasy season. Talent can often trump anything else, but I doubt a sea change in offensive philosophy is coming.    

6 Re: Chubb and Brown

In reply to by ALauff

The good news is that Brown will likely see a big increase in volume.  It's just not quite enough to get him into our top 20, which is where I think he'll probably be drafted in most leagues.