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 (6/10): T. Hill, A. Brown, D. Adams,
A. Thielen, J. Smith-Schuster, & R. Woods
You know it’s been a rough year for the game’s best
wideouts and, by extension, those who spent lavishly on them, when
three of the top five fail to remain even in the Top 25. That was
the case for Tyreek Hill (WR29), Davante Adams (WR30) and, of course,
Antonio Brown (oblivion). Hill logged only two short grabs in the
season opener against Jacksonville before going down with a sternoclavicular
joint injury. He wouldn’t return until Week 6, at which point
he had no hope of reclaiming Top 10 status. Adams, on the other
hand, suffered a turf toe injury during the Pack’s Week 4
loss to Philly and wouldn’t return until Week 9. Though he
was spectacular down the stretch, the Green Bay star never justified
that high draft value. Then again, at least he didn’t set
fire to it, or to his NFL career, as Antonio Brown did. When the
Raiders and Pats can’t countenance you...yeah, it’s
time to be done.
Adam Thielen seems poised for a huge 2020 rebound after the Vikes
parted ways with Stefon Diggs, but 2019 was a year to regret for
the Mankato great. Thielen averaged a Top 10-worthy 11.6 FPts/G
through seven weeks, but tweaked a hammy and only regained his form
when the playoffs rolled around. JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season
followed a similar trajectory minus that “regained his form”
part. Pittsburgh’s WR1 had to deal with his own variety of
injuries, a season-ending injury to Big Ben, and the added attention
of defenses no longer forced to contend with the aforementioned
Brown. From Week 9 to the end of the year, JuJu scored a measly
10.9 points. Our final WR dropout of 2019, Robert Woods, scored
more than that in four of his final five games, salvaging what was
shaping up to be a pretty disappointing campaign. With LA at a clear
crossroads, it’s hard to tell what the 2020 season has in
store for Woods and the rest of a once-explosive Rams offense.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top 10 This Year:
LAR: Kupp was arguably the most productive member of that
Rams offense in 2019, grabbing a career-high 94 balls (on 134 targets)
for 1,161 yards and 10 scores, good enough for 11.0 FPts/G and a
WR4 ranking overall. Not bad for a skinny, “too slow” Yakima kid
who couldn’t even get a football scholarship offer from Yale, his
dream destination as a prep. Unless you were paying pretty close
attention, however (not guilty), Kupp’s usage fell off the table
in the season’s second half. Notice I didn’t say “production,” because
there was still plenty of that, mostly in the form of touchdowns.
He scored one a week from Weeks 13 through 17 despite a greatly
reduced snap percentage and a steep decline in targets (about five
per game from Week 9 on).
There’s no telling which Kupp we’ll see in 2020, mostly
because there’s no telling which personnel grouping Coach
McVay will prefer to employ most often. It’s too simplistic/reductionist,
maybe, but at least interesting that the Rams scored about four
points fewer per game utilizing their heavy personnel package—essentially
Johnny Mundt instead of Kupp or Brandin Cooks—more frequently.
There’s also the added complication of Cooks having moved
on to Houston. Though it’s easy to assume Kupp will just move
outside and continue to thrive in 11 sets, the Rams spent their
second pick of the draft, No.57 overall, on Van Jefferson, a speed
merchant from Florida. Speed ain’t everything (keep reading),
but Jefferson seems like a better fit on the perimeter than the
natural slot, Kupp.
The bottom line for me is that Kupp is probably too talented and
too simpatico with Jared Goff to fall completely off the radar.
Fall completely out of the Top 10? Yeah, I think that’s happening.
Parker, MIA: Last season seems like
literally years ago, so imagine my recent surprise when I popped
open the rankings, in preparation for this series, to discover Parker
was the sixth most productive wide receiver in 2019. Really? In
the entire NFL? Not sure if I was sleeping at the wheel last year
(possible) or that this sheltering-in-place marathon has since eroded
my memories (more likely), but I definitely didn’t have “DeVante
Parker turns into a primo fantasy producer five years into his career”
on my 2019 fantasy FB bingo card.
Parker has always struggled with injuries—last season was
his first clean sheet after missing 17 career games—and that
probably also explains why he’s always struggled with consistency.
His points-per-game totals had stepped down each year since his
2015 debut: 8.4, 6.6, 5.6, and 3.4. Then 2019 happened (10.9) and...welp,
guess we have a new star receiver to consider for 2020 drafts next
month! Or do we?
I’m always leery of jarring statistical outliers, especially
when the player who authors them has never really demoed a capability
for stardom or an ability to stay healthy in prior seasons. In some
ways, Parker has probably benefited from Miami’s crappiness
since he joined the squad. Like, who else did they have? Can you
imagine Bill Belichick, for instance, gambling that four years of
disappointing production would somehow lead to a Year 5 jackpot?
This general skepticism aside, I’m also concerned there won’t
be enough Fitzmagic-making this season. From Week 6 on, when the
bearded one took over for good, Parker averaged 12.3 FPts/G, a per-game
clip only three other receivers surpassed. Think the Fish drafted
Tua so he could serve as Fitzy’s apprentice all season? Yeah,
me neither. Parker’s a risky 2020 pickup.
TEN: Unlike Parker, who took five years to gain his NFL
sea legs, Brown hit the NFL ground running, mostly go routes if
his eye-popping rookie totals are any indication. The 51st pick
out of Ole Miss averaged 20.2 yards per grab, trailing only Big
of the Chargers amongst qualifying receivers. Moreover, he turned
9 of his total 55 touches into scores (one rushing touchdown). In
other words, Brown scored just over 16% of the time he touched the
pigskin, a staggering TD percentage only a handful of others bested.
Is it any wonder Matt Luke was canned down in Oxford, having never
managed to nudge teams featuring Brown and Seattle’s DK
Metcalf over the .500 mark?
Both Ole Miss products have bright NFL futures ahead of them, but
I actually think Metcalf has a better chance of posting Top 10 numbers
in 2020. He’s playing with Russell Wilson, for starters, instead
of Ryan Tannehill. He’s also considerably taller/more muscular
(6’4”, 229 lbs. v. 6’0”, 226 lbs.) and faster
(4.33 40 v. 4.49) than his college teammate. Raw 40 times don’t
necessarily translate into pure game speed, but if you’ve
watched Metcalf run with pads on, it’s hard not to envision
him transforming into an all-time great sooner rather than later.
Hey, maybe Brown will too, though I’m skeptical his middle-of-the-road
40 time will consistently translate, for seasons to come, into the
top-end, per-catch production he displayed as a rookie. There’s
more to starring as an NFL wideout than straight-line speed (see
Kupp, Cooper), but Brown simply isn’t fast enough to hit as
many homers again (avg. 2019 TD: 39 yards). Tennessee also ignored
the position in the draft, meaning he becomes an even clearer focal
point for opponents in 2020.