With the sudden departure of Leonard Fournette, an average of 267 touches are up for grabs in the Jacksonville Jaguars backfield. As everyone pens up a bunch of think pieces on the prospect of former fifth-round pick Ryquell Armstead, we could all be missing the real question. Can Chris Thompson bounce back to fantasy football relevancy in 2020 in Jacksonville?
What has Chris Thompson done for fantasy in the past?
Despite seemingly living rent-free on the IR, Chris Thompson has had sneaky fantasy football relevancy in any sort of PPR scoring format. Since 2015, he has averaged 55 targets a season, despite almost never playing a full slate of games (that comes out to an average of 4.6 targets per game).
With the news that Fournette is no longer a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, there is suddenly an additional 100 vacated targets from the year before. Thompson was already a leading candidate to eat into some of those, even with Fournette in the picture, but could he get an even bigger piece of the pie with Fournette gone?
Admittedly, it’s been a few years since Thompson was a regular name in fantasy football. Injuries have been a common denominator in derailing him from ever cementing himself as a steady roster piece. But if we look back a few seasons, his 2017 campaign really sticks out. From Weeks 1-11 that year, he was the tenth best running back in fantasy football for PPR scoring and averaged 14.03 points per game during that span, before he got injured.
Thompson’s Fantasy Analytics
Reviewing his historical Consistency Score (CS) from 2017, his 4.36 CS that season ranked 23rd among all running backs. He demonstrated an outstanding ceiling of 30.8 points, helping to buoy his score despite averaging only 6.4 carries per game.
His Fantasy Point Differential (FPD) that year backs up that he was a special player. Coming in at 29%, Thompson ranked sixth among all running backs that year while racking up a positive 34.2 points above expected fantasy points (xFP). To put that into perspective, Aaron Jones had a 29% FPD in 2019 when he finished as the number two overall running back in fantasy.
A big reason Thompson was so efficient in fantasy points scored is that receptions are simply worth more in fantasy football. As Ben Rolfe details out:
“Ultimately, a carry is worth 58% of a reception in a standard league and just 30% of a reception in PPR leagues.”
Considering Thompson is mainly a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, this explains why he was so dominant for fantasy football, despite having less than ten carries per game.
Despite recent injuries, the future looks bright for Thompson in Jacksonville
The other weight in Thompson’s favor is that he is staying united with the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator, and former Washington Football Team head coach, Jay Gruden. Gruden was the head coach from 2014 through 2019 and instituted his offense over that time. Thompson, having been drafted in 2013, is the player most familiar with Gruden’s offense in Jacksonville, having been in it for the past five seasons.
Not everything is entirely rosy for Thompson, however. Since 2015, when Thompson started playing a bigger part on offense, he has missed a total of 20 games over those five seasons. Having been banged up for much of his career has left a sour taste in many fantasy football GM’s mouths since that 2017 breakout. Over the course of the past two years, his CS has dipped to 2.7 and 2.8 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In addition, his FPD has dropped into the negatives, with a -15% and -12% as well.
Chris Thompson’s 2020 Fantasy Outlook
Despite the slump in the prior two seasons, there is reason to believe that fortunes are rosy for Thompson looking forward. First, as of right now, he is healthy. A healthy Thompson is dangerous. We have seen him show off big-play ability in the past and the ability to sustain fantasy point production when available.
Secondly, aside from DJ Chark, there aren’t any other real threats to Thompson when it comes to pass catchers. Fournette was third on the team in targets for 2019, with 100. Chris Conley was fourth with 90 targets, and then no one else on the team even eclipsed 40 after that.
With only 24 targets in 2019 (1.5 per game), Armstead doesn’t seem like much of a threat to that role, either. Thompson appears poised to be the pass-catcher in the Jacksonville backfield, and Gruden has demonstrated his ability to scheme for that role well. With no one else standing out on the Jaguars roster, Thompson stands to inherit the lion’s share of those vacated targets.
Finally, he is free. Looking at FleaFlicker’s ADP, Thompson is going undrafted in most leagues. His ADP of 214 makes him the 63rd running back taken. You can take him with your final pick. Or if you already drafted (like me) this last weekend, there is a good chance he is sitting on your waiver wire right now. Worst case scenario, he isn’t really used as much as we hope and you toss him back into the free-agent pool. But considering how little of an investment you need to make on him, he can only over-perform for your fantasy football roster.
Phillip Caldwell is a fantasy analyst for Pro Football Network and can be found on Twitter @DumpsterDiveFF.