We’ve still got the Super Bowl ahead of us and yet the news cycle is already focusing on next season. It’s possible we could see over five quarterbacks switching teams this offseason with marquee names headlining the movement. Deshaun Watson has requested a trade. Matt Stafford and the Lions agree to part ways with rumors of his landing spot already circulating. With the rest of the league already in motion for 2021, the Super Bowl is something of an afterthought. Regardless, I dug into keys to success for Kansas City to preview the game. In addition, with fantasy leagues already turning towards next season, I walk through some tips regarding best-ball drafts which are already in full swing for next season.
Keys to Success for Kansas City
We typically focus on the Chiefs’ offense, and their accolades, regarding the team’s success. But the Super Bowl requires accomplishments on both sides of the ball. Fortunately, their secondary has shown up during the playoffs. Kansas City’s passing defense is first in Expected Points Added (EPA) per Dropback allowed during the playoffs after finishing ninth during the regular season. A key aspect is their pressure rate. The Chiefs were able to dial up pressure on 34.5% of enemy quarterback attempts and that same rate ticked up to 37.6% during the playoffs. With Brady dropped from 0.3 EPA per Play from a clean pocket to -0.03 EPA per Play under duress, this could be how the Chiefs maintain a lead throughout the game.
However, the onus primarily falls on Patrick Mahomes and how the offense can win against the Buccaneers. Green Bay highlighted some of Tampa Bay’s deficiencies this past weekend. Their inefficiency through rushing on early downs (-0.03 Rush EPA) should push Kansas City towards a similar game plan they displayed in the Conference Championship game that featured a 58.8% passing rate in neutral situations. Or, at least, give us a more creative running game. In addition, Mahomes should continue to rely on his receivers to keep the offense moving. Whether it’s through Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman, it was Marquez Valdes-Scantling that gave Tampa’s defense fits throughout the game. After Hill produced 269 yards the last time the Chiefs and Buccaneers met, the Buccaneers will now have two speedsters to deal with without even mentioning Travis Kelce and the running backs.
The official end of the 2020 season is less than two weeks away. For some, it’s a much-needed break. For others, it’s the start of a new season. Best-ball lobbies are set to open after the Super Bowl concludes with some sites already offering drafters a chance to start building their portfolio. The format has steadily gained interest over the last few seasons due to its perceived simplicity along with prize pools for some of the tournaments. But the allure has drawn the interest of casual and high-stakes players alike. Casual drafters enjoy the ability to create teams and avoid the weekly, in-season management. High-stakes players invite the challenge of developing and testing strategies. For fantasy managers looking to get a jump on the 2021 season, I’ll expand on one of the common pitfalls that typically occurs in the early phases of the draft.
Avoiding the Running Back Trap
Drafting running backs with an ADP in the middle rounds (typically Rounds 4-7) tend to have a lower hit rate compared to the other phases of the draft. Managers will see many of the bell-cow RBs drafted, perceive positional scarcity at the position, and draft a player just for the sake of filling the RB slot on their roster. However, the opportunity cost of drafting a running back at this stage of the draft isn’t something that’s always considered.
The results of the 2020 season are slightly different due to the drop in running back targets but they still serve as a reasonable proxy for the general idea. Wide receivers produce at a higher rate compared to running backs drafted in the same round during the early-to-middle phase of the draft. Part of the reasoning is intuitive.
The number of workhorse backs is limited to a select few which pushes their value to the top. Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey come to mind. As ADP increases, the chances of finding a similar production profile decreases. But for wide receivers it’s different.
We have a similar number of elite wide receivers. Think of Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, or Michael Thomas (to an extent). However, the WR2 group is deep. In 2020, there were 107 different receivers in the Top 24 through Week 16. Running backs had 90 unique players in the RB1 or RB2 conversation. With PPR scoring and having to start at least three receivers each week, we should focus on capturing as much of the high-value production at WR as possible and avoid the RB trap in this area of the draft.
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Bounce-back Candidate for 2021
Miles Sanders, Eagles
Sanders’ season can be described in one word: pain. Pain in the literal sense as injuries kept him out of four games and hampered him for at least another two games. Indirect pain as Philadelphia’s offensive line put three starters on injured reserve over the course of the season and their injury report featured two starters on their line from Week 1 to Week 13. Franchise pains as chaos spanning from the former starting quarterback to the owner affected the offensive play-calling. It was a chaotic season on multiple fronts.
But let’s focus on the field. The struggle for fantasy managers was Sanders’ erratic usage in the passing game. He closed out his rookie season with an 11.8% target share and never dipped below 4 targets from Week 10. His usage down the stretch of his rookie season fueled his value heading into 2020. But Philadelphia’s chaotic end of their season took its toll on Sanders.
The ascension of Jalen Hurts was an overall boost to their offense. Philadelphia went from 28th to 20th in EPA per Dropback. But the ailing offensive line and the lack of targets of Sanders crushed his value. An explosive play was all we could hope for on a weekly basis. But, there’s some optimism for Sanders in 2021.
Despite the problems along the offensive line, Sanders was 13th in rushing success rate. He handled 79.2% of the team’s running back touches (11th in the league) and his 53 targets were 15th in the league (despite their erratic nature). But, most importantly, he was the team’s primary rusher in the red zone. Hurts’ mobility will cap some of Sanders’ upside in 2021, but he was the ball carrier on 80.0% of the Eagles’ rushing plays from inside the 20-yard line after Hurts was named the starter. Assuming the line gets healthy and Nick Sirianni can successfully implement his philosophy, Sanders should be a value in 2021 drafts.