What do Leonard Fournette, Mike Evans, and Rob Gronkowski have in common? Yes, they all won a Super Bowl last season with Tampa Bay, but they’re also all going too high in fantasy drafts this summer. Those two facts are probably related.
The KUBIAK fantasy projections web tool is an amazing resource for the fantasy player who wants to either print a draft board with rankings that match their league’s scoring and roster settings or do a live accounting of a salary cap league during the draft. But as many options as the tool provides, it cannot explain why players have the projections they do. That’s where this article and next week’s Underrated edition come in. I have picked a handful of players at each position that KUBIAK ranks notably worse than their average draft position (ADP) and will explain our pessimism.
Here are the previous articles in this series:
All referenced KUBIAK rankings are for players’ positions and with PPR scoring.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
KUBIAK Rank: 14
ESPN ADP: 12
Yahoo! ADP: 9
Hurts teased top-five fantasy potential in his four rookie starts with 354 yards and three touchdowns as a runner. That may make KUBIAK pessimistic in its projection of 583 yards and 5.2 touchdowns over a full season as a starter in 2021—it lands him fifth in rushing fantasy points at the position behind Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Cam Newton, and Josh Allen. But those totals may also prove optimistic if Hurts sabotages his rushing efforts with continued poor passing. His -17.6% passing DVOA would have ranked 31st last season if he had reached the 200 pass attempts to qualify. He was dramatically less efficient than everyone’s favorite rookie punching bag Tua Tagovailoa (-8.5%). Meanwhile, his 24.1% red zone completion rate was an outlier of a poor total at more than 10% below Sam Darnold (36.5%) at second worst and nearly 20% below the rest of the field of normal starters. Poor arm strength and indecision are often exposed in a compressed field. If Hurts can only excel between the 20s, then the Eagles may move on quickly, even if their replacement options are less enticing on-field talents than the Philadelphian pipe dreams.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
KUBIAK Rank: 24
ESPN ADP: 15
Yahoo! ADP: 17
A much better year (5.1% DVOA) with a much better offensive coach’s new scheme eased my concerns for Mayfield’s NFL prospects. With better health at his skill positions from Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, Mayfield has room to improve on his 25th-ranked 16.0 fantasy points per game from 2020. But Mayfield remains in a situation that is better for real life than fantasy success. He has the mobility and instincts to extend plays within the pocket and bootleg for better throwing lanes, but Mayfield has not taken the critical fantasy step to scramble. His 165 rushing yards from 2020 are the most he has had in three seasons. Meanwhile, the Browns called a non-quarterback run on 43.1% of their plays last season, the second-highest rate in football.
|Highest Non-QB Run Ratios, 2020|
Ryan Tannehill and Kirk Cousins landed on either side of him and snuck into QB1 consideration with 10th- and 12th-place finishes in fantasy points per game. But that seems like a ceiling for Mayfield in his offense, which makes him a poor strategic draft pick in shallower formats when even uncertain starters Cam Newton and Taysom Hill and rookies Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance could do better with the proper breaks with their rushing abilities.
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
KUBIAK Rank: 19
ESPN ADP: 12
Yahoo! ADP: 14
With his unusual combination of size (6-foot-2 and 230 pounds), athleticism, and hand-eye coordination, Harris would have been the best rookie back for fantasy pretty much wherever he landed. And in one sense, it’s a boon to his value that he ended up with the Steelers. Head coach Mike Tomlin has relied almost exclusively on bell-cow backs in his 14-year tenure with the team. Harris has little to fear in competition from incumbent options Benny Snell or Anthony McFarland. That said, the Steelers had the worst run-blocking line (3.72 adjusted line yards) in 2020, and that was before they lost Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva in free agency, saw Maurkice Pouncey retire, and released David DeCastro. The team will have less experienced and less heralded starters across their line in 2021, and their one holdover, Chuks Okorafor, is attempting the difficult transition from right to left tackle.
With his exceptional after-contact skills, Harris is a better fit behind a patchwork offensive line than the players the Steelers had last season. And with his expected volume, he remains a top-20 option at the position. But Harris has a tougher road to success than backs such as J.K. Dobbins, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Josh Jacobs in his range of ADP.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
KUBIAK Rank: 20
ESPN ADP: 11
Yahoo! ADP: 12
I don’t have the same concerns for Gibson’s run-blocking that I do for Harris’, and I’m similarly enamored with the former’s talent despite his third-round draft pedigree. Gibson was as much a receiver as he was a runner at Memphis, and so it’s easy to assume that he will make a marked jump in his pass-catching from his rookie to his sophomore season. Still, I’m skeptical of that growth in workload because of circumstances beyond his control. Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins finished first and eighth with 31.0% and 21.7% running back target rates in 2020. New quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has lagged behind them at 18.9%, and he’ll have more talent at wide receiver than his Washington predecessors after the team added Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown this offseason. Gibson may shift the balance between his 36 catches from 2020 and J.D. McKissic’s 80, but that still may not be enough to best his rookie total if his quarterback is throwing only half as many of his passes to running backs.
Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
KUBIAK Rank: 37
ESPN ADP: 30
Yahoo! ADP: 31
I routinely advocated for Fournette in fantasy in the middle of 2020 over incumbent Bucs runner Ronald Jones because of the latter’s major drops issue. But as the former’s role with his new team expanded, I was dismayed to see that he fared about as poorly as a receiver. For the season, Fournette dropped 14.3% of his catchable targets, the fifth-highest rate among backs with 25 or more such targets. And like his teammate Jones, Fournette had some ugly drops—case in point, this one against the Panthers:
And this one against the Rams:
And also this one against the Rams:
And finally this one against the Rams:
Tom Brady’s face said it all in the final clip, but he had little choice but to continue to throw to Fournette after veteran LeSean McCoy proved to be washed (-41.7% rushing and -30.3% receiving DVOAs). That won’t be true in 2021 after the team signed a veteran in Giovani Bernard who is still in his late 20s. Bernard has fewer drops (eight) since the start of 2018 than Fournette had (nine) in 2020 alone, and Bernard saw a healthy volume of 120 catchable targets in that time. He should see most of the team’s third-down work in 2021, and as such, we project Fournette to drop from 36 to 20 catches this year and lose his flex value in PPR formats.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
KUBIAK Rank: 27
ESPN ADP: 12
Yahoo! ADP: 12
The Bucs are about to become the theme of this article. And while Evans does not have the same skill-set limitations that his teammate Fournette does, he suffers a similar problem in the abundance of skill talent around him that will make it difficult for any of the Bucs stars to meet their high fantasy expectations. The team retained wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown for 2021, and after the latter joined the team in Week 9, Evans saw just 7.0 targets per game in the second half and playoffs when all three played. That total was just 36th-best at the position.
Fantasy players may not have noticed that downturn in volume, but they would have if Evans scored fewer than his 13 touchdowns, the fourth-highest total in the league. He won’t lose all of them—he is 6-foot-5 and has the best-ever quarterback to throw him the ball. But Evans also caught 2.8 more touchdowns than the expectations of his target locations, the ninth-highest surplus in football. And it wasn’t because of his skill. Evans has fallen short of his expected touchdown total in three of his last six seasons, and Mike Clay’s opportunity-adjusted touchdown research suggests that players rarely beat or fall short of their expected totals year in and year out.
|Mike Evans’ Touchdown Surplus|
|Season||Opp Adj RecTD||TD||Surplus|
Evans has a track record of health and production that may insulate him from dramatically underachieving on his KUBIAK projections of 914 yards and 7.5 touchdowns. But while you could talk me into an Evans draft selection over players such as Kenny Golladay and Michael Thomas with greater injury concerns, you could not persuade me to consider him in the company of healthy receivers such as Keenan Allen, A.J. Brown, and DK Metcalf with much less competition for their teams’ targets.
D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
KUBIAK Rank: 36
ESPN ADP: 19
Yahoo! ADP: 20
It’s difficult to make a statistical case that new Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is as good as his predecessor Teddy Bridgewater. The former produced -15.2%, -20.4%, and -32.2% DVOAs in his three seasons with the Jets. But even if you believe that offensive coordinator Joe Brady can save Darnold’s career, Moore has a low fantasy ceiling because of his lack of touchdown-scoring. In his three-year career, Moore has just 10 touchdowns and hasn’t fallen dramatically short of his 13.5 opportunity-adjusted total. Brady does some creative things in his scheme that often land the smaller Moore (5-foot-11) on the outside with lanky Robby Anderson (6-foot-3) in the slot. But that doesn’t elevate Moore to the red zone threat that rookie receiver Terrace Marshall (6-foot-3) or tight ends Dan Arnold (6-foot-6) and Tommy Tremble (6-foot-3) can be. And in any case, the Panthers will likely rely heavily on their star running back Christian McCaffrey when they approach the end zone. That doesn’t leave a lot of fantasy potential for the rest of the skill talent in the offense.
Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
KUBIAK Rank: 42
ESPN ADP: 35
Yahoo! ADP: 35
Jeudy does not deserve the full blame for his bottom-four -22.9% DVOA from his rookie season. Just 62 of his 113 targets were catchable. But Jeudy deserves blame for his 16.1% drop rate, the highest among receivers with 50 or more catchable targets. Those could become an issue if the Broncos return to full strength. Second-round draft pick Courtland Sutton broke out with 1,112 yards and a 5.7% DVOA in 2019 before he missed last year with an ACL tear, and undrafted gem Tim Patrick made a compelling case to start on the outside with a 16.1% DVOA rate in 2020. And unfortunately for Jeudy and every Broncos pass catcher, the team failed to swing a trade for star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and are left with incumbent and so-far inaccurate Drew Lock plus Panthers reject Teddy Bridgewater. Jeudy may see another outsized total of uncatchable targets in 2021.
Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
KUBIAK Rank: 7
ESPN ADP: 4
Yahoo! ADP: 4
Sammy Watkins is a role player and Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace are rookies. I doubt that any of the Ravens’ new trio of pass-catchers will knock tight end Andrews from his perch as the team’s No. 1 receiver this season. That said, their skills could portend a major expansion of the team’s passing offense. Last year, Lamar Jackson threw an outlier rate of 42.3% of his aimed passes to the middle of the field. No other quarterback with 200 or more attempts was above 28.9%, and Andrews was the major beneficiary with a league-leading 44.9% of his targets coming in that area. The more Jackson throws outside, the less often he will target Andrews.
Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
KUBIAK Rank: 20
ESPN ADP: 12
Yahoo! ADP: 13
Gronkowski completes the set of the Buccaneers players KUBIAK views as overvalued in fantasy this season. And while he smashed through my similar pessimism from 2020, he might need another teammate injury to repeat the feat in 2021. Gronk saw just 3.5 targets per game the first four weeks of 2020. But after fellow tight end O.J. Howard injured his Achilles tendon, Gronk surged to 5.3 targets per game over the rest of the season. It’s reasonable to bet on the future Hall of Famer’s touchdown upside, but before you do, consider that the Bucs have starter-quality pass-catchers in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, and Giovani Bernard fighting over five players’ worth of snaps and targets.
Rodrigo Blankenship, Indianapolis Colts
KUBIAK Rank: 25
ESPN ADP: 11
Yahoo! ADP: 11
Carson Wentz’s foot surgery made for an obvious deterrent to his own fantasy value and that of his primary receiving options such as Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman. But don’t overlook the fact that a worse Colts team will create fewer opportunities for their kicker, Blankenship. Last season, when his team was 12th in offensive DVOA, seventh in defensive DVOA, and fifth in average starting position on their drives, Blankenship had 37 field goal attempts and 45 extra point attempts, fourth- and 11th-most. Expect those totals to fall in his sophomore season with the Colts’ mean projections ranking 22nd in offensive DVOA (without even incorporating the Wentz injury) and 11th in defensive DVOA.
KUBIAK Rank: 17
ESPN ADP: 10
Yahoo! ADP: 8
A No. 26 DVOA projection may undersell the Browns’ defensive potential after they added stars in Jadeveon Clowney and John Johnson to last year’s 25th-ranked unit. But that pair of players are not the final pieces of a complete puzzle. The Browns lack depth at both defensive end and defensive tackle, and they will have to rely on unproven players such as Greg Newsome, Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the secondary and at linebacker. They should be a streaming option at the very least, but the Browns look more like a team to watch as a potential in-season pick-up than one to draft, especially with their top-10 projected schedule difficulty and a Week 1 trip to Kansas City.