2020 Fantasy Football: First-half studs you may have forgotten include Cooper Kupp, Evan Engram, Matt Stafford


In Fantasy Football, we have to deal with our own biases. Two of the most prominent examples are recency and primacy bias, and they can often be at odds with one another. They both come into play when players have inconsistent performances throughout a season. 

Recency bias is the term for when we put more weight on recent events than we should. In Fantasy that means overvaluing recent runs of good play versus a longer-term view of the situation. 

Primacy bias is our tendency to put extra weight on the first item of a series, and it can lead to overrating players who break out early in a season before fading. 

On today’s episode of Fantasy Football Today, we looked at first-half studs you may have forgotten. There were plenty of first-half studs to consider, of course, but primacy bias tends to win out for those who were fairly productive in the second half. 

But for those whose production really fell off a cliff? That’s when recency bias takes over, and we typically underrate their potential the next offseason, forgetting the positive results of the early part of the year. 

Let’s take a look at some of those players, and what their value should be heading into 2020. 

Stafford’s production didn’t fall off — he just got hurt. But in the eight games he played, he paced for almost exactly 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns, which would have been his best season since 2011. 

For several years since Calvin Johnson’s retirement, Stafford’s top targets have been underneath weapons, with Golden Tate and Theo Riddick racking up receptions in the Lions offense. As both of them moved on and Detroit brought in Darrell Bevell, a funny thing happened — Stafford’s average throw depth spiked to a league-high 10.6 yards. 

This was a significant change. Stafford hadn’t previously averaged more than 8.0 yards of depth per pass attempt since 2013, and the new offense and combination of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and T.J. Hockenson are all back for 2020. Had Stafford finished 2019, he would almost certainly be considered a top-10 quarterback heading into 2020. I’m buying everywhere. 

Week 7 was a turning point for David Johnson. That was the game in New York where he started but played just three snaps, and Chase Edmonds ran roughshod over the Giants defense en route to a three-touchdown game. Johnson wouldn’t play again until Week 10, and by that time Kenyan Drake was on the roster and Johnson wouldn’t play more than 50% of the snaps in any game the rest of the way. 

But prior to Week 7, Johnson was perfectly fine for Fantasy. He wasn’t very productive on the ground, averaging just 50 rushing yards on 12.7 attempts per game, but his receiving role and touchdown production was back, as he was averaging five receptions and 53 yards through the air and found the end zone five times in six contests. That was good enough for 20.2 PPR points per game in that stretch, and it speaks to some upside in 2020 if he’s healthy again with the Texans. 

Still just 25, Howard got a solid $4.75 million guaranteed from the Dolphins this offseason after a one-year stint with the Eagles. In his nine healthy games to start the season, Howard averaged 4.4 yards per carry en route to 525 rushing yards and six scores. 

Never much of receiver, Howard’s rushing ability is underrated. In three prior seasons with the Bears, Howard averaged more than 1,100 rushing yards and eight scores on the ground per year. There’s a lot of buzz around the Dolphins selecting one of the top running backs in the 2020 Draft, but if they address other needs in the high-leverage rounds, Howard could again be in line for a significant workload. 

Kupp started 2019 on an absolute tear, posting 792 receiving yards through his first eight games. Unfortunately, as the season progressed, his role diminished significantly, and he totaled fewer than half as many yards — 369 — in the season’s second half. 

But Tyler Higbee’s emergence and the impact it had on Kupp down the stretch might just serve to devalue Jared Goff’s favorite red zone target. Sure, there’s a little added risk with Kupp given his snap shares cratered and the Rams’ offense may have just evolved away from their heavy reliance on 11 personnel, which is what kept Kupp off the field as the slot guy. But we’re still talking about a guy who has started his career with three excellent seasons on a per-game basis, and just posted 94-1161-10 even with the slowdown. With Brandin Cooks now out of the way, it’s hard to imagine Kupp not being a focal point again in 2020. 

The book on Ross remains that he can’t stay healthy, and that may always be the case. But in the off-chance that it isn’t, it’s worth remembering he started 2019 with a 7-158-2 line on 12 Week 1 targets and backed it up with 4-112-1 on eight more looks in Week 2. To be fair, Ross had a down game in Week 3, got hurt in Week 4, and wasn’t nearly as productive in four late-season games after returning from IR. 

The key here is quarterback play, specifically as Ross’s catchable target rate has been poor thus far in his career. There aren’t a ton of targets to go around in Cincinnati, but Ross showed us in 2019 he can translate his prodigious speed into Fantasy points, and he’s a great Best Ball option in 2020 on the hope his connection with Joe Burrow is an immediate upgrade over his lack of chemistry with the weak-armed Andy Dalton. 

Engram’s another player who got hurt, and our most recent recollection of him is pushing his value down in early 2020 drafts. But he had a remarkable five-game stretch for a tight end to start the season before missing Week 6, returning for three more games and ultimately being shut down. 

Over the first five games of 2019, Engram averaged a whopping 9.6 targets — a 154-target pace — and caught 6.6 balls for 75 yards per game. He saw at least seven targets in each game, and he did that in two of his final three games after his injury as well. 

Now the Giants weren’t ever at full strength in their pass-catching group, and they’ll enter 2020 with Darius Slayton having shown off some late-season upside and Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard both presumably healthy. But Engram is a wide receiver with a tight end’s positional designation, who runs a 4.42 and can stress a defense in ways few can. His injury history is concerning, but there’s major upside in buying at a discount this year, and there are plenty of late-round options at the position in 2020 that make it easy to hedge that bet on health. 

Which players are poised for breakouts, which sleepers do you need to jump on, and which busts should you avoid at all costs in your Fantasy football league? Visit SportsLine now to get early rankings, plus see which WR is going to come out of nowhere to crack the top 10, all from the model that out-performed experts big time last season.





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