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Sophomore Slump: Breakout Rookies Who Could Bust in 2020

This past NFL season, we saw a number of breakout rookies like Terry McLaurin, Josh Jacobs, and Kyler Murray. While many of these players will maintain or exceed their fantasy production from year one, there are some others whose production will become stagnant or even take a step back.

Second-year players can have a wide range of outcomes because there's now a full year of film where NFL teams can look and better exploit the player's weaknesses. The players need to readjust and show they have improved.

In this space, we are going to talk about the players from the 2019 draft class that are due to hit the sophomore slump, and you should try to avoid at their current draft prices.

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A.J. Brown - WR, Tennessee Titans

A.J. Brown really came on strong at the end of last season and helped a lot fantasy teams win a championship. But while that's a great feel-good story, some of his numbers were a bit of an outlier. Brown averaged 8.8 yards after the catch, which was the best in the NFL. But according to NFL’s NextGenStats, he should’ve averaged only 4.0 yards after the catch based on the spots where he ended up catching the ball and the defenders around him. This means there was nearly a five-yard difference between his expected numbers and actual numbers. No other NFL receiver had a difference of more than 2.6 yards, so expect at least some regression from Brown in his yards after the catch.

His starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, also is due for some regression which will make it harder on Brown to replicate his production. Last season Tannehill threw for a touchdown on 7.69% of his passes. This was in the top 70 all-time for a single season. He had a yards-per-attempt of 9.6 which ranked top 10 all-time, after never topping 7.7 in his previous six seasons as a starting quarterback.

So if A.J. Brown is going take the next step and be a perennial fantasy stud, he's going to need to get more targets. And while that may seem possible with Brown being the number one receiving option for the Titans, being the number one option on a team that attempted the 2nd fewest passes and runs through Derrick Henry is much different than being the number one option of a pass-happy team. 

Play Caller Team Passing Att Per Game Pass Yds Per Game Pass TD Per Game Rush Att Per Game Rush Yds Per Game Rush TD Per Game Total Attempts Per Game Fantasy Yards Per Game Total TD Per Game Pass Att % Run Att %
Arthur Smith Tennessee Titans 28 247.25 1.81 27.81 138.94 1.31 55.81 386.19 3.13 50.17 49.83

Brown is a very talented receiver, but his current draft price ranges between a top 30 pick and a top 50 pick depending on the site you draft from. In this offensive system, he's very unlikely to return good value and should be avoided in your fantasy drafts.

2020 Projection:

110 targets, 60 receptions, 960 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns


Daniel Jones - QB, New York Giants

Daniel Jones is a player I have gone back and forth on as a fantasy asset. On one hand, in just 12 starts (13 games) as a rookie he threw for 3027 yards, took 45 carries for 279 rushing yards (6.2 YPC), and scored 26 touchdowns (24 passing). Jones was also one of three players (Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson) to have two of the top-10 single-game performances by a QB for the 2019 NFL season.

However I have some concerns. Daniel Jones has some major issues with turnovers. Last season Jones fumbled 18 times (11 lost) which led the NFL. This problem has dated back to his college days at Duke where he fumbled 19 times (13 lost) in his three-year career. In addition, Jones threw 12 interceptions which at face value doesn't seem too bad for a rookie. But he also got a little lucky that he only threw 12 interceptions, as 29 of his passes were categorized as interceptable.

That means that 6.32% of his pass attempts last year were interceptable but he only threw interceptions on 2.61% of his pass attempts. And comparing these numbers to his fellow QB compadres from the 2019 draft class, it's clear he is due to throw more interceptions this year.

Player NFL Team Att. Passes Comp% Yards Per Pass Attempt TD Pass% INT% Interceptable% Money Throw% Dropped Pass%
Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals 542 64.39 % 6.87 3.69 % 2.21 % 3.32 % 4.80 % 4.24 %
Daniel Jones New York Giants 459 61.87 % 6.59 5.23 % 2.61 % 6.32 % 3.92 % 5.45 %
Dwayne Haskins Washington Redskins 203 58.62 % 6.72 3.45 % 3.45 % 5.42 % 1.97 % 10.34 %
Drew Lock Denver Broncos 156 64.10 % 6.54 4.49 % 1.92 % 3.21 % 1.28 % 5.77 %
Will Grier Carolina Panthers 52 53.85 % 4.38 0.00 % 7.69 % 13.46 % 0.00 % 3.85 %
Ryan Finley Cincinnati Bengals 87 47.13 % 5.45 2.30 % 2.30 % 9.20 % 2.30 % 3.45 %
Gardner Minshew Jacksonville Jaguars 470 60.64 % 6.96 4.47 % 1.28 % 4.26 % 3.40 % 7.23 %
Devlin Hodges Pittsburgh Steelers 160 62.50 % 6.64 3.13 % 5.00 % 6.25 % 4.38 % 4.38 %
David Blough Detroit Lions 174 54.02 % 5.66 2.30 % 3.45 % 7.47 % 1.15 % 10.34 %

The change in play-callers from Pat Shurmur to Jason Garrett will also be hard on Jones. Pat Shurmur's offense was 9th in passing attempts during the 2019 NFL season, and he's only ranked outside of the top 20 in passing attempts twice in eleven years as an offensive coordinator or head coach.

The Giants made the decision to fire Shurmur and hire Joe Judge as their new head coach, bringing on Garrett as an offensive coordinator. Having a new offensive coordinator for Jones may pay off in the long run, but in the short-term, Jones will experience some growing pains learning the new system. Daniel Jones will be a good fantasy asset down the road because of his rushing ability, but he's destined for regression and a sophomore slump in 2020.

2020 Projection:

330/550, 3500 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 55 carries, 350 rushing yards, 15 fumbles, 8 lost


Darius Slayton - WR, New York Giants

Within the fantasy community, Darius Slayton has gotten some hype as a year-two breakout. After all, he's a 6'1'' receiver with a massive catch radius that ran his 40-yard-dash with a blazing 4.39 time. So why does he land on this list?

A good chunk of it is the expectations of Daniel Jones' to suffer a bit of a sophomore slump, making Darius Slayton more likely to fall on this list as well. Jones' touchdown pass ratio is expected to decline after throwing a TD on 5.23% of his passes in 2019, and considering Slayton caught eight touchdowns last season (9th in the NFL), touchdown regression would greatly hurt his fantasy prospects.

Another reason is that the New York Giants pass catchers were banged up much of last year with Golden Tate, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard missing 5+ games apiece. What this means is that the competition for targets will be higher for Slayton this year, and make it difficult for him to enjoy a true breakout.

Well, maybe it doesn't matter that the competition for targets is greater if the overall passing volume gets larger.

Looking into the change in play-callers from Pat Shurmur to Jason Garrett suggests that the passing volume for the Giants is more likely to get smaller rather than larger. Under Pat Shurmur, the Giants ranked ninth in the league in passing attempts in both 2018 (583 passing attempts) and 2019 (607 passing attempts).

Meanwhile, Jason Garrett's offense has had a much more balanced approach in the last two years, ranking 21st in passing attempts in 2018 (527 passing attempts) and 10th in passing attempts in 2019 (597 passing attempts). Slayton will have a much tougher road to be fantasy relevant in 2020, and there are players with more upside in his draft range that you should target.

2020 Projection: 

100 targets, 55 receptions, 760 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns

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