When going through and providing a year in review for the 2020 NFL Fantasy Football season, hindsight becomes such a terrible thing, especially when looking at players that were overdrafted when compared to their season-long production.
But this hindsight can also be a great thing in the NFL, especially if you were able to unearth some diamonds late in drafts that rose up from their projections and helped you get far in your leagues this year.
Having faith in certain players going into the season that others do not is one thing, but to then use a draft pick on them, ride with them, and have them pay dividends for your investment, is exactly the kind of success story that the year 2020 desperately needed.
This list dives into five of the biggest surprises for fantasy purposes from this past NFL season, with their surprising performances stemming from outperforming their projections, remaining healthy, or even ascending into a larger role on their respective team.
All NFL player projections and average draft position (ADP) rankings are based on full-point, point-per-reception 12-team league formats and come from ESPN’s updated database.
Kyler Murray – QB
Average Draft Position – 3.07
Games of Double-Digit Fantasy Performances – 14/16
Kyler Murray made the Arizona Cardinals look a lot better than who the Arizona Cardinals were this NFL year, and that is a testament to his abilities both throwing and running the ball. Having full control over the offense, under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, gives the former Sooner all the leeway in the world, leading to some absolutely awesome plays.
While Murray certainly his fair share of learning moments and mistakes, it goes without saying that the kind of impact that Murray has brought to the NFL shines through each and every game, and that his ADP of just past the halfway mark of the third round is gross, simply when looking at his yearly production.
Finishing the year with 3,971 passing yards, 26 passing TDs, and 12 interceptions (along with 4 fumbles) through the air, Murray also carried the ball 131 times for 816 yards (6.2 YPC) and 11 rushing TDs – these numbers alone show that 37 total TDs is a huge number and that Murray’s role in this NFL offense was greatly accentuated with the offseason acquisition of WR DeAndrew Hopkins.
Bump him up your NFL draft boards for next year, because Murray looks to be closing in on Patrick Mahomes-type hype when it comes to fantasy stock, meaning that a reach into the second round may be his going rate in 2021.
Josh Allen – QB
Average Draft Position – 5.02
Games of Double-Digit Fantasy Performances – 16/16
Breakout NFL seasons are what this piece is about, and Josh Allen easily embodies that role, and then some – the former Wyoming star finally was able to put everything together on this list, thanks largely in part to another member of this list that will be talked about later on.
But first, to Allen – an early fifth-round price tag looks absolutely outrageous now, and with hindsight being as clear as it is, anyone who was able to get him in the fifth round or later probably had a great NFL season. Combine 4,544 passing yards, 37 passing TDs, 10 interceptions, and 6 fumbles with 100 carries for 418 yards and 8 rushing scores and you have yourself a recipe for the QB2 on the season (behind Murray).
Now, comparing Murray and Allen makes a lot of sense on paper at least, as both are above-average mobile NFL QBs that can absolutely toss the rock – but both fulfill different roles in their respective offensive systems, something that should certainly be noted.
Murray’s role helps carry out Kingsbury’s college-themed NFL offense, as his legs help makes the rushing attack as potent as it is, while helping open up strong throwing lanes. But for Allen, his scheme is built around his arm strength and his improved decision-making, as OC Brian Daboll has gone to counting on his amplified accuracy to fit the ball into tight windows, all the while mixing in just enough run-first plays for Allen to keep the defense on its toes.
You want Allen next year? Same deal as Murray – have fun paying up for him in the NFL fantasy football realm.
James Robinson – RB
Average Draft Position – 4.01
Games of Double-Digit Fantasy Performances – 14/14
Let’s face it – James Robinson went undrafted in most of your NFL fantasy leagues, and the only reason his ADP is set at the first pick of the fourth round is due to leagues that drafted after the season started, helping boost that number.
The Jaguars look to have found another stud NFL RB, and this time they did not need to use a high first-round selection on him, which should hopefully delight many Jacksonville fans. But what is nice about Robinson is that he carries his undrafted tag on him through every hole in the offensive line, every pass-blocking opportunity, every snag out of the backfield – and the determination that he runs with is exactly what you need to see out of a starting-caliber RB.
Having ended the NFL fantasy season as the RB4, Robinson quickly took on the workhorse role for this team, turning 240 carries into 1,070 rushing yards (4.6 YPC) and 7 rushing TDs, while hauling in 49 passes for 344 yards and 3 receiving TDs. While certainly not on the level of Derrick Henry in terms of rushing production, Robinson may have given Jags fan a surprising second offensive piece to build their core around, with QB Trevor Lawrence a likely addition to an interesting squad moving forward.
The first NFL selection of the fourth round for Robinson’s price tag moving into 2021? Let’s just say you best pay up and pay past that.
Justin Herbert – QB
Los Angeles Chargers
Average Draft Position – 8.11
Games of Double-Digit Fantasy Performances – 13/14
No offense to the league’s leading MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers here (who has put together a fantastic season), but Justin Herbert was absolutely amazing this year and deserved the third QB spot on this list, behind both Allen and Murray. Coming into an NFL season that had small expectations for the former Oregon Ducks QB, Herbert was thrust into the game due to some unfortunate medical mishaps involving team doctors and incumbent starter Tyrod Taylor, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Not only did Herbert help keep this below-average NFL squad competent more than they should have been, but he also established a key relationship with WR Keenan Allen and was able to withstand a long-term injury to RB Austin Ekeler that put more of the offensive onus on himself.
The biggest thing holding Herbert back from really exceeding his ADP in ‘21 is going to be his weapons, as Ekeler looks to jump right back into his starting NFL role (which obviously holds a ton of receiving value with it). The issues here lies with the health of both Allen and Mike Williams, as both have checkered injury histories that do not bode well for long-term sustained health.
If Herbert can get an offensively-centered NFL coach (i.e. Daboll would be great here) to help accentuate Herbert in Year 2, then he certainly could see himself back on this list next season. If not, he will do great in fulfilling the middling role that Philip Rivers set before him.
Stefon Diggs – WR
Average Draft Position – 2.12
Games of Double-Digit Fantasy Performances – 16/16
The lone NFL wideout on this list is an absolute doozy – Stefon Diggs.
His NFL year started with a once-disgruntled WR getting his way and having a trade granted, as the Minnesota Vikings shipped him out to the Buffalo Bills in return for a package headlined by BUF’s 2020 first-round selection. As everyone is aware of the Vikings used that pick on Diggs’ direct replacement, LSU WR Justin Jefferson, who very much filled Diggs’ role and then some, making this a rare win-win trade.
Having shed the never-happy label being on a team that he could finally be the true NFL WR1, Diggs thrived catching bombs from Allen, producing career-highs across the board. Hauling in 127 passes for 1,535 yards (12.1 YPC) and 8 TDs, not only did Diggs produce at his highest career levels, he absolutely proved that sometimes a change in scenery is all that is needed for a player to realize his full potential.
Having an ADP of the final pick of the second round, Diggs will most likely sit around that price tag in ‘21, if not a bit higher, seeing as there were other more well-known NFL pass-catching options that also produced at high levels (Davante Adams, Allen, Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Hopkins, Travis Kelce, DK Metcalf, Allen Robinson, Darren Waller, etc.), which can easily help you solidify your WRs earlier on in your drafts.