Fantasy Takeaways After Projecting All 32 NFL Teams: AFC Edition

Projecting all 32 NFL teams is one of the most impactful things I do in my process. Here are my fantasy football takeaways and their impact on the AFC.

Don’t draft Cam Newton thinking you are getting the MVP version

I was just about done with this article right when the news broke that Cam Newton is now a New England Patriot after signing a one-year deal. Instantly, all of our minds started to go crazy, especially mine, knowing I had to readjust all of my rankings and projections while figuring out what Newton’s value will be moving forward

While we have to wait and see how he will look on the field, I am confident that Bill Belichick wouldn’t make this move without believing that Newton is healthy enough to be the starter. That is the mindset I used when generating my projections. I have Newton playing in 15 games and now-backup Jarrett Stidham playing in two games. I know that math comes out to 17 games and it’s a 16 game schedule, but if a player just takes a single drive or a quarter for someone to get credited for a game played. Given the numerous ways someone can be taken off the field, I always try to factor that into my process.

Currently, Newton is my QB18. He is behind the 8-ball for learning the offense, and there are enough questions about how his body will wear as the season goes on for me to use caution. I have him projected for roughly 3,000 yards, 25 total touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. I have upped his completion percentage from his career 59.6% up to 63.5% as I think, given the personal and scheme, shorter routes will be there. 

Where Newton shines and always has is inside of the 10-yard line and especially 5-yard lines. He is one of the greatest rushing quarterbacks of all time, and his size allows him to punch it in using his feet and is a constant threat. 

Newton’s rushing ability directly conflicts the most with RB Sony Michel, who I feel takes the biggest hit with his signing. In 2019, all seven of Michel’s rushing touchdowns came inside of the redzone. Five of those were inside of the 5-yard line, which is where Newton shines. In fact, of Newton’s 57 career rushing touchdowns, 37 of those have come from inside of the 5-yard line. 

Care to take a guess which team has had the most goal-to-go rushing touchdowns over the last five years? You guessed it, the New England Patriots. Since 2016, the Patriots are also number six in red zone rushing attempts. All of this leads to opportunities for Newton to use his athleticism to raise his fantasy floor. It all hinges on him staying healthy.

I have nothing positive to say here for the New York Jets in 2020

I’d love to give some insightful and positive spin on the Jets for fantasy in 2020, but I can’t do it. Adam Gase has taken away any fun out of this team, and the best course of action is to stay away. Yes, Le’Veon Bell and even Jamison Crowder can return value or a bit more than where they are being drafted. The question remains, do you trust Gase not to ruin it all?

I oddly enough would have liked Bell given the sheer amount of touches he will likely see and his rather low price. However, after adding both the immortal Frank Gore and rookie Lamical Perine I’m backing off the former RB1. 

Outside of when he had Peyton Manning holding his hand for two seasons, Gase’s offenses have ranked 21st, 24th, 25th, 31st, and 32nd in yards. I have the Jets projected to continue their sub-60 plays per game trend for the fifth year in a row.

While there might be value, nearly all Steelers players are hard to trust

As much as it pains me to say it as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, there are so many questions coming into this season that fantasy players will have to figure out. First, Ben Roethlisberger is back after missing nearly all of 2019 and undergoing Tommy John surgery. Father Time is undefeated, and it remains to be seen if he can return to the level we once saw. I do not project him throwing for the absurd 675 total in 2018. I don’t know if he can handle it. However, even with a limited Roethlisberger, it’s a possibility that there is an overall increase of 80-90+ targets in 2020. It can’t get any worse for sure.

Then we move to the running backs. James Conner has shown that while he can be productive, he can not be relied on to stay on the field. Going back to 2018 when Conner took over for Bell, who was holding out, he saw 270 touches. However, the workload lead to him missing the final three weeks. The Steelers must believe this as they continue to add more and more running back depth to the team. Most recently, with Maryland RB Anthony McFarland, who brings an extra level of pace to the team. 

Perhaps the best way to keep Conner on the field for an entire season is knowing when to keep him off of it. 

The two bright spots I see for the Steelers come with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. It’s hard to count 2019 against Smith-Schuster as much as some people want to. Yes, he did not play as a WR1, which we wondered after Antonio Brown was off the team. However, both Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges showed some of the worst quarterback play I have ever seen. What is clear is Roethlisberger and he have chemistry, which I believe will show up in 2020. I have Smith-Schuster protected as my WR13 this year in PPR, and there is room to go up from there. 

As for Johnson, given the improved accuracy coming from Roethlisberger and increased targets, he has WR3 upside for 2020 and could crack the top 25. The question moving into the season is did the Steelers strike gold again in the draft with Chase Claypool? Their track record for WR talent is incredible.

Unless A.J. Brown is hyper-efficient, he is over-drafted in 2020

Once Ryan Tannehill became the starting quarterback over Marcus Mariota, A.J. Brown took off to another level.

A.J. Brown
Photo Credit: RotoViz

In 2019, Brown led the NFL in yards per route run at 3.46 as well as having the highest fantasy point per pass route run in the NFL at 0.71. For comparison, Michael Thomas, in his record-setting year, was at 0.69. Much of his scoring came from his eight touchdowns, and he was targeted eight or more times only three times all season. For a player who is the WR1 on this team, this is alarmingly low. 

The Tennessee Titans have been below 59 plays per game in both 2018 and 2019. Unless there has been some massive change in philosophy, I see no real reason for a significant uptick, especially in the passing volume. Last year, the Titans’ 51.21% passing play percentage was 30th in the NFL.

Even if we think the Titans run more plays and boost the total to 60.5, using last year’s splits, that’s 493 attempts. Even if Brown sees the same 20% target share, that’s only 98.7 targets. 

Currently being drafted as a WR11, I feel he is close to his ceiling. Brown would need to score at a ridiculous rate to keep up with the target monsters that fill out the top-12 wide receiver rankings, especially in PPR formats. 

My other bold take is that Jonnu Smith will be a top six fantasy football tight end in 2020. I have him projected nearly dead even with Corey Davis in targets (82) and using his phenomenal after the catch ability to pile up the yards.

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Tommy Garrett is a writer for PFN covering Fantasy Football. You can follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read all of Tommy’s work here, listen to him on PFN’s Fantasy Football podcast, and check out his contributions in PFN’s free fantasy newsletter. Give him a follow on Twitter: @TommyGarrettPFN.