While end-of-season stats and rankings show how a player finished their season overall, it does not give a true sense of the journey during their fantasy football campaign, especially those who turned it around after a tumultuous-at-best offseason. These NFL players struggled or had a down first half of 2020 but went on to have fantastic performances in the back end of the year and could carry that momentum into the 2021 fantasy football season.
Quarterbacks with strong second-half fantasy football performances in 2020
After getting off to a slow start, these QBs turned it around and could ride the momentum into 2021.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For the first time in his career, Tom Brady was not under the ever-watchful eye of Sauron…er, I mean Bill Belichick. Many wondered how he would transition to a new offense and climate, and whether or not he was a “system QB.” Over the first six games, there was a noticeable adjustment period for Brady and the offense, averaging 256.8 yards per game and 19.7 points (4 points per passing TD). By Week 9, Brady was up to a 20.0 ppg average (14th) and the QB7 overall but averaged just 266.4 yards and 2.2 TDs per game.
From Week 10 on, Brady was flat-out sensational. He was the QB7 overall but was fourth in points per game (24.3) and second only to Patrick Mahomes in yards per game at 319.2 (seven games) during that span. Additionally, he was only behind Aaron Rodgers (24) in passing touchdowns with 20.
Not only is Brady back with the Buccaneers in 2021 as they go for back-to-back Super Bowl victories, but so are the rest of the 22 starters (first time in the salary-cap era). I would not be surprised to see Brady: 1) lead the NFL in red-zone attempts, and 2) be a top-eight QB if his second-half performance is any indicator of future fantasy success (even with zero rushing upside).
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
The post-NFL MVP hangover hit Lamar Jackson hard in 2020. The combination of low passing volume, a lack of WR talent, and drop-off in touchdown efficiency led to managers hitting the panic button by midseason.
Over the first nine weeks of the year (eight games), Jackson was the QB13. That’s a sharp decline after going as the QB2 in drafts. He was 27th in passing yards at 1,153 (189.9 per game) and averaged 1.5 TDs per contest. In those eight games, Jackson had 3 or more total touchdowns just once (Week 1).
However, the Jackson we saw in the second half of the season, specifically post-COVID, gave fantasy football solace for the future. Jackson was a QB1 in all five games and was the QB2 during this stretch, averaging 27.7 points per game. He recorded 15 total touchdowns and led the NFL in rushing by a QB with 430 yards (129 more than Jalen Hurts in second).
This is the Jackson we expect, and honestly, he could be even better as a passer in 2021. The Ravens invested heavily at receiver with Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, and Tylan Wallace. I expect to see Jackson be much closer to what we saw in the second half of 2020 and have similar fantasy football performances this season.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
At some point, people outside of Cleveland will start to put some respect on Baker Mayfield’s name. With the hype surrounding the Browns, especially the hiring of Kevin Stefanski, some were disappointed with how Mayfield started the year. In his first eight games, Mayfield completed just 61% of his passes for an average of 189.3 yards per game as the QB23 (15.0 ppg).
Then, things clicked for Mayfield and the offense. He averaged 256.1 yards per game on 64% passing, with 13 total TDs as the QB12 (17.1 ppg). He was even better from Week 12 and beyond as the QB7 (20.7 ppg).
Mayfield played from Week 8 on without Odell Beckham Jr. (torn ACL) in the lineup. The Browns are a run-first and run-second offense. Mayfield played no one outside of the Ravens in terms of good defenses, but I can’t hang that against him, as he did what he was supposed to do. Is he ever going to be a QB1? Not likely, but Mayfield is a solid streaming option in plus matchups.
Running backs with strong second-half fantasy football performances in 2020
Which running backs turned their season around and helped carry fantasy managers to playoff success?
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Nothing was more annoying than watching the Colts give touches to Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins instead of Jonathan Taylor. Though, even when he got the ball, Taylor struggled. The vision was not there yet, as was the pace of the game. He seemed to be constantly pressing.
Because of this, Taylor was the RB19 through Week 10 (10.7 ppg) while averaging 47.6 rushing yards and 22.6 receiving yards on 46% of the snaps. Then, all hell broke loose — Taylor ended the season as the RB3 from Weeks 11 through 17 (23.1 ppg). He was second in rushing over this stretch with 741 yards (123.5 per game) and scored 8 total touchdowns.
In the second half of the season, Taylor showed fantasy football managers what he could do this year. Granted, he did it against one of the softest schedules imaginable, but it goes to show the monster ceiling Taylor has in 2021 as the RB1 out of the gate.
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
For as good as Taylor was, no RB finished 2020 quite the way Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins did when it came to finding the end zone. After battling his way through a timeshare that had him as the RB42 through Week 10 (6.6 ppg), Dobbins was the RB8 in his last six games while scoring a TD in each outing (7 TDs). While splitting reps with Gus Edwards (52% snap share), Dobbins raised his per-game score by over 10 points to 16.7 ppg.
As much as I like Dobbins, a few factors are playing against him next season. For one, his 6.0 ypc is going to drop, and secondly, he saw just 24 targets. There is also the fact the Ravens love Gus Edwards more than you think they do. While I believe Dobbins is a reliable RB2, I don’t see him continuing his torrid scoring pace or jumping into the elite RB1s of fantasy football.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
Taylor had the yards and Dobbins the touchdowns, but Cam Akers’ potential volume is tantalizing.
Stuck in a three-headed committee, it took Akers until Week 13 to see over 60% of the snaps in a single game. As a result, Akers was RB76 (4.5 PPR) through his first 11 weeks (eight games) and averaged just 25.1 rushing yards per game.
It all changed in Week 12. Although Akers only saw 9 carries and 27% of the snaps, he turned those into 84 yards and a touchdown on his way to an RB16 finish (13.9 points). Over the final five weeks (four games), Akers rushed 86 times for 340 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, he caught 8 passes on 11 targets for 96 yards.
He was the RB23 (13.9 PPR) over this stretch, and the only fault was the lack of touchdowns. If you include his two playoff games, Akers averaged 24.3 opportunities per game (0.67 pts/opp) and 118 total yards after becoming the lead back.
Akers exploded over the second half of the season thanks to this enormous workload. He heads into the 2021 fantasy football season as a low-end RB1 that could see over 280 total touches.
J.D. McKissic, Washington Football Team
Through Week 8, Washington RB J.D. McKissic was the RB45 in fantasy, averaging 9.3 opportunities per game, 47.7 total yards, and 6.3 fantasy points.
From Week 9 and on, McKissic saw a massive spike in value. He was the RB9 during this span, averaging 14.4 opp/game, 68.9 yards, and 11.9 ppg. McKissic was as valuable as anyone in PPR formats, averaging 8.6 targets per game and recording RB2 or better finishes in six of nine contests.
While I don’t believe McKissic will see a similar volume in 2021 (110 targets), he is an interesting deeper play in PPR formats.