There will be nothing normal about the 2020 NFL season, obviously.
There will be no preseason, no fans in some stadiums, no guarantee
we’ll even make it through a full campaign before losing tons
of players to this insidious pandemic. About the only thing we can
reasonably count on is that last year’s Top 10 performers,
should they successfully evade the virus and a sudden league quarantine,
won’t look anything like this year’s Top 10 performers.
We know this because I’ve been providing data for nine consecutive
years to support that belief. Welcome to Year 10 of the Top 10 Dropouts
series, folks, a deeper dive into which stars disappointed last
year and which of them might be primed to do so this coming season.
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s
Non-PPR league scoring.
Who Missed the Cut in 2019 (7/10): T. Gurley, A. Kamara, J.
Conner, M. Gordon, K. Hunt, J. Mixon, & D. Johnson
More like who DIDN’T miss the cut in 2019: Saquon, CMC, and
Zeke. That’s the list. The rest of last year’s reigning
Top 10 backs were doomed by a lethal mixture of injuries, holdouts,
suspensions, more injuries, misuse/disuse, and just flat-out crummy
teammates or crummy production. After two consecutive years as football’s
RB1, Todd Gurley’s decline was mostly predictable, the Rams
suggesting early on he’d be more judiciously utilized. He
was (about six touches per game off his 2017 pace), but Gurley didn’t
help himself by averaging a full yard less per rush. Alvin Kamara’s
usage was also down a bit in 2019, though he remained remarkably
consistent as a receiver (82, 81, and 81 receptions through three
NFL seasons). He’ll probably need something closer to 200
carries to get back into the Top 10.
James Conner carried the ball almost exactly 100 times fewer than
he had in 2018, the result of several nagging injuries (knee, shoulder,
thigh). We’re projecting him to notch about 150 points this
year, which wouldn’t even guarantee him a Top 20 finish, let
alone Top 10. Melvin Gordon and Kareem Hunt, conversely, have only
themselves to blame for a steep production decline in 2019 (RB24
and RB53, respectively). The former held out the season’s
first month and essentially got Wally Pipp’d by Austin Ekeler.
The latter missed a full half of the season due to a league-imposed
suspension and only garnered 43 total carries (about 5 per game)
backing up Nick Chubb.
Cincy’s Joe Mixon carried the ball a whopping 278 times (T-5th
overall), but still dropped from RB9 to RB12, a slide I’d
blame mostly on crummy QB play. That excuse won’t work for
our final RB dropout of 2019, David Johnson. The former Cardinal
turned in his worst career FPts/G performance playing next to rising
star, Kyler Murray, which includes the partial game production of
an exceedingly brief 2017 season. Of the two, only Mixon looks like
a good bet to regain Top 10 status.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top 10 This Year:
GB: It took regime change in Titletown for Jones to get
the workload he richly deserved and the unsung fifth-rounder from
UTEP did not disappoint, parlaying a career-high 285 touches into
career-high numbers across the board (rushing yards, rushing TDs,
receiving yards, receiving TDs, and fantasy points). So why on Earth
would one of his most vocal proponents, a deeply devout Packer Backer,
no less, suggest he’s ripe for a pullback in 2020?
For starters, Jones’ 19 total touchdowns seems highly unsustainable
moving forward. He tied for the league lead with Christian McCaffrey,
despite the fact McCaffrey out-touched the Green Bay stud 403 to
285. That’s a difference of nearly 120 touches, or about 7+
per contest, and begs the question: Was McCaffrey’s touchdown
rate (4.7%) disappointing or was Jones’ (6.7%) just an extreme
outlier? I’m going with the second, more plausible scenario,
that Jones scored TDs at an unusually high clip. If you’re
needing more historical evidence, Emmitt Smith, who scored more
career touchdowns than ANY NFL back, only scored 19 or more in a
season three times. Barry Sanders, arguably the most talented NFL
back of all time, never did it.
That’s not to say Jones can’t net somewhere between
12-15 six-pointers in 2020, though he’ll have considerably
more competition for red-zone touches than he had last season. After
the Pack drafted Aaron Rodgers’ understudy, Jordan Love, with
the 26th pick of the first round, they nabbed AJ Dillon, a 6’0”,
247-pound brute who will almost certainly be utilized near the goal
line. Heck, there’s even an outside chance Dillon, who’s
every bit as quick as Jones, could end up being RB1 in GB sooner
rather than later. Teams don’t typically waste first AND second-round
picks on backups, I wouldn’t think. Be very wary.
MIN: I’m not deliberately picking on NFC North running
backs, I assure you, but if Jones and Cook do indeed take the predicted
steps back this coming season, the division is unlikely to be represented
at all in the RB Top 10 when we close the books on 2020. There’s
simply nobody currently toiling for the Lions or Bears who looks
capable of cracking that select group and, in fact, the Lions have
been repped just a single time this CENTURY...and barely, at that
(Reggie Bush, RB10 in 2013).
Cook’s fantasy production leaped by almost seven full points
per game in 2019, a remarkable improvement after two, mostly injury-prone
seasons. He was the clear centerpiece of a conservative Minnesota
offense, racking up 300+ total touches and accumulating 1,654 yards
from scrimmage, good for sixth overall at the position. Still, he
wasn’t completely able to escape the injury bug last year,
suffering a wounded clavicle in Week 15 against Seattle, which cost
him the final two regular season games. Though he returned and performed
well in the playoffs, Cook has now missed 19 regular season games
in his three-year career. That’s about six per year and serious
Serious concern No.2 is the fact Cook wants more money and the Vikes,
with all the leverage, have already positioned themselves to move
on from him should the relationship really sour. Though Alexander
Mattison was only a scroll-down producer in his first year out of
Boise St., he was more efficient than his teammate, recording the
league’s sixth-best Offensive Share Metric at the position,
a Pro Football Network measure of “how much a player’s
statistical production [he was] actually responsible for.”
Aaron Jones and Cook, by comparison, ranked 22nd and 23rd. Make
no mistake: Cook is eminently disposable.
BAL: My FFToday colleague, Doug Orth, published a great
piece recently highlighting some running backs who were highly dependent
on game script last season, either positive or negative (“Stick
to the Script” - 21 July). Ingram was one of those backs who
benefited greatly, and not surprisingly, from positive game script.
As Doug points out, the Ravens possessed the football way more than
any other team (average 38:54 per game) and trailed way less often,
as well (about three and a half minutes, on average). Baltimore
also carried the ball almost a HUNDRED times more than the next
closest squad, San Francisco, meaning Ingram had the additional
good fortune of playing for the league’s most rushing-dependent
I suspect he will again in 2020, though it’s safe to question
just how big his slice of that supersized rushing pie will actually
be. The Ravens aren’t exactly stacked at the WR position,
yet waited until the third round to draft help (Devin Duvernay)
so they could spend their second-round pick on...another running
back! J.K. Dobbins laid waste to my college fantasy FB league last
year and seems like a good bet to demand touches in this offense
(along with Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, who are still around).
Another reason to be leery of Ingram in 2020 is his unsustainable
receiving touchdown rate. Though he was a very serviceable pass-grabber
in his past life as a Saint, he was targeted only 29 times playing
for the Ravens last season. Nevertheless, he caught almost all of
those targets (26) and turned five, nearly 20%, into paydirt visits,
a career high. By comparison, the aforementioned McCaffrey was targeted
142 times and only scored four receiving TDs. Regression to the
mean is real and it’s typically quite ruthless.