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Fantasy Football Spring Cleaning Primer

It’s springtime again, and with spring comes the need for cleaning.

That means it’s time to make room in your garage for that treadmill your in-laws gave you as a passive-aggressive Christmas gift and, more importantly, it’s time for you to clean out your fantasy football closet and make room for the new wave of young talent coming in. Luckily for you, this guide is here to help you decide when to keep that veteran player in your pocket, and when to make room for youth.

So let’s get to cleaning!

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

QB: Out with Ben Roethlisberger, in with Drew Lock

While Roethlisberger is still being treated as a solid Superflex QB in fantasy, I don’t love his prospects without Antonio Brown.

Completions made to Brown account for 20% of Big Ben’s career passing yards and touchdowns, despite playing seven seasons without him. Brown was even a crutch for Roethlisberger during JuJu Smith-Schuster’s breakout 2018 season, accounting for 25.2% of his total yards as well as 44% of his touchdowns and deep ball yards. That kind of production is hard to replace, evidenced by the fact that Big Ben has only one 4,000-yard season and two seasons of more than 18 touchdown passes without Brown.

Drew Lock, on the other hand, had several promising weapons in Denver even before the team added two more in the draft. The addition of Jerry Jeudy gives Lock an elite route runner with the ability to stop on a dime, swivel like a top, and lose defenders at the snap. Jeudy should help open easy windows on the right side of the field, where Lock completed only 47.6% of his passes compared to his completion percentage of 75.4% to the rest of the field. The addition of K.J. Hamler is also significant, adding a deep element to the offense that can spread defenses thin. Hamler and Jeudy adding on to what Denver already had in Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton should raise Lock’s fantasy value significantly.

Roethlisberger's ceiling without Brown is probably 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, which is low for an injury-prone quarterback. That is why you should pass on Big Ben in the 12th round and bet on Lock’s upside two or three rounds later in all formats.

 

RB: Out with Aaron Jones, in with Clyde Edwards-Helaire

The Chiefs made Clyde Edwards-Helaire the first running back off the board in this year’s draft, and it is clear why. Aside from top-end speed, Edwards-Helaire is better than Damien Williams at almost everything. He is more durable, he gets more yards after contact, he breaks more tackles (71 to Williams’ 22 last year), and he is more consistent (Williams averaged 3.12 yards per carry on 108 of his 111 carries, while the rookie averaged 5+ yards per carry in 15 of his final 28 college games).

Since Edwards-Helaire seemingly has an edge on Williams, who was benched for an aging LeSean McCoy at times last year, it seems likely the rookie will take over the 18+ touches per game that Reid has given to his lead back in 16 of his 21 seasons as a head coach. In this offense, 18 touches per game could see Edwards-Helaire coming close to the 7 catches and 140 all-purpose yards per game that Brian Westbrook averaged as Reid’s lead back in Philly.

Unfortunately, the Packers have not been infected by Andy Reid’s lead back mindset. Instead, Green Bay is going the other way by creating a three-headed toilet monster.

Last season Aaron Jones ranked 12th among NFL running backs in red-zone touches and 9th in red-zone usage rate. That means Jones had to convert a whopping 42% of his red-zone touches into touchdowns (for reference, Christian McCaffery converted 18.6%) to become a top-10 fantasy back last year. That conversion rate was unsustainable even before the Packers used a 2nd round pick on A.J. Dillon, who should cut into Jones’ goal-line work more than Jamaal Williams ever did thanks to his powerful running style.

With Jones’ red-zone efficiency bound to regress from its insanely high levels in 2019, he was already looking at touchdown and fantasy regression in 2020. Now that a touchdown vulture like Dillon is in town, Jones' regression should be even more pronounced. That is why you should be comfortable taking Edwards-Helaire ahead of Jones in all fantasy formats.

 

WR: Out with Jamison Crowder, in with Henry Ruggs III*

A vast majority of Jamison Crowder’s routes come in the short to intermediate areas of the field, which is where Sam Darnold gets more than 76% of his completions. That’s why Darnold targeted Crowder on 24% (8.3 targets per game) of his 2019 throws and 31.5% of his touchdowns. This sort of target share makes Crowder a very safe bye week fill-in for fantasy owners, especially in PPR settings.

While Crowder has a reliable fantasy floor, Henry Ruggs looks to be a boom or bust fantasy asset in 2020 thanks to his quarterback.

In 2019, Derek Carr threw 48 passes of 20+ yards (aka deep balls) in 16 games. For context, Patrick Mahomes threw 73 deep balls while playing in only 14.5 games last year. Carr’s conservative play in 2019 wasn’t an anomaly, either. Carr hasn’t attempted 70 deep balls since his rookie year. This reluctance to throw deep, along with the fact Carr has never averaged more than 7.4 yards per throw under pressure, should significantly limit the weekly floor of a rookie deep threat like Ruggs.

After balancing Ruggs’ promising long term outlook with what should be a low weekly floor in 2020, Crowder’s stability makes him preferable in re-draft leagues while Ruggs’ ceiling is the choice in dynasty formats.

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