Hot Takes - JuJu

2020 Hot Takes

The writing team here at 5 Yard Rush are knee deep into draft season. As you draft, certain themes emerge. You begin to realise which players you are naturally drawn to, and the ones you are avoiding. Strategies are tested out and perfected, trends emerge. The gang previously collaborated to put together their safe take for 2020. Now, it’s time for the spiciest of hot takes. We’re talking Nando’s Extra Hot. Check them out below.

Tom Scott (@downthemannyrd)

Take 1: Kyler Murray will “do a Baker Mayfield” in Year Two

This is one of the spiciest takes I have made in some time. 

In 2018, Baker Mayfield silenced the doubters. The former Oklahoma Sooner undoubtedly has a chip on his shoulder, and uses criticism as his fuel to perform. After replacing Tyrod Taylor in a Week 3 match-up against the Jets, he showed precisely why the Cleveland Browns passed up on Sam Darnold to take him #1 overall in the NFL Draft.

Entering the 2019 fantasy season, Mayfield was QB4 in both standard and superflex leagues. At an ADP of 58.5 in standard formats, expectations were high. After all, this was the guy that had just broken the league record for passing touchdowns by a rookie. The Browns were destined for the playoffs with their franchise QB.

The reality was that Mayfield regressed in almost all aspects of his game, despite the Cleveland offence becoming saturated with weapons. Throwing the ball 48 more times in 2019, his pass completion percentage fell by 4.4%. His average yards per throw fell by half a yard to 7.2. His touchdown tally fell from 27 to 22, and interceptions thrown rose from 14 to 21.

Mayfield was 19th overall in scoring in fantasy football last season, scoring less points than Derek Carr, and less points per game than rookies Gardner Minshew II and Daniel Jones. Fantasy players jumped onto an inexperienced QB with a small sample size of data, who understandably failed to live up to the hype. And they’re doing exactly the same thing this time out.

The Numbers

Let’s see how Mayfield’s rookie year in the NFL compared with that of his successor at Oklahoma, Kyler Murray.

Name Comp. % Yards Rushing yards TDs Rushing TDs INTs Total fumbles Passer rating 
Baker Mayfield  63.8% 3,725 131 27 0 14 7 93.7
Kyler Murray  64.4% 3,722 544 20 4 12 5 87.4

There really isn’t much in it between the two. Kyler takes it in terms of pass efficiency, and clearly adds more to the Cardinals rushing game than Mayfield does in Cleveland. He was also marginally safer with the ball, throwing 2 fewer interceptions and totalling 2 fewer fumbles. Though the two threw an almost identical amount of yards, Mayfield had 3 more touchdowns and a passer rating slightly higher than Murray.

Why, then, are fantasy players flocking to Murray in his second year? Murray, like Mayfield, is sitting at QB4 coming into his sophomore year in the NFL. His ADP is 46.5, notably higher than Mayfield in 2019.

Learning from last year 

The answer is that fantasy football players are making the same mistake this year than they did last. Murray has the added benefit of continuity at Head Coach, and his close relationship with Kliff Kingsbury will serve him well.

He was 7th in scoring last year, finishing below Josh Allen in total points and Matt Ryan in points per game. In redraft leagues, the guys waiting for Ryan to fall are giving themselves a better chance of topping their leagues.

Don’t get me wrong, Kyler Murray isn’t going to stink the place out in 2020, but neither will he reward fantasy football players expecting Patrick Mahomes levels of production from him this year.

 

Stocks (@5yardrush)

Take 2: Juju Smith-Schuster will be top three irrespective of format

Yep Rush Nation, you read that right! Not only will Juju finish as a top three Wide Receiver in 2020 but he will be the WR1 in Standard Scoring. You heard it here first. Well technically second if you’ve read my rankings in the Fantasy Football Playbook. The stars are aligning for Juju to go absolutely ham this year.

The Rookie

Let’s go back to 2017, when Juju burst onto the scene as a rookie. Of the 14 games he played he was only starter in seven of these. Despite only starting half of the games he still managed to rack up 917 yards off of just 58 receptions. I say just, 58 isn’t nothing but Juju’s 15.8 yards per reception certainly helped this yardage total. He also hauled in seven touchdowns and 37 first downs.

Seeing as he only started half of the games as a rookie, let’s have some fun and see how his full season numbers come out. Juju would have finished his rookie season with 1834 yards off of 116 receptions. He would have been targeted 158 times and scored 14 touchdowns. These numbers would have placed him firmly as the top Receiver in Standard scoring with 267 fantasy points . Sure, I know, doubling his production isn’t fair as he played 14 games but only started 7. So let’s take 20% of his production off and see what happens. He finishes the year with 1469 yards off of 93 receptions with 11 touchdowns and 212 fantasy points. Juju takes the Wide Receiver two, three points behind Nuke Hopkins. This would have been the greatest rookie season ever by my mile-high 14 game pace. Unlikely I know.

Take Off

2018 is where Juju really displayed his skills. In both the 2017 and 2018 seasons Juju was the second wide receiver on the Steelers’ roster behind Antonio Brown. Juju played all 16 games finishing the season with 1426 yards off of 111 receptions and again hauling in seven touchdowns. This was enough for him to finish as the WR9 in Standard scoring with 185 fantasy points. His numbers were comparable in all columns with the top finishers except in the touchdowns column. Antonio Brown had a remarkable 15 touchdowns in 2108. If Juju had reeled in a few of Brown’s targets in the end zone then his finish would have been a lot higher. In Fact just two more touchdowns would have seen him climb into the top six. When you take in that he had 111 receptions his finish would have been much higher in PPR leagues. In both 2017 and 2018 the Steelers utilised Juju mostly from the slot and that’s where he has shown he is most prolific.

20 UH-OH 19

Antonio left town and Juju found himself as the Alpha in the steel city. Not a role he was afraid of as he had already shown what he could do in his two previous seasons when Brown missed time.

What this shows is he has a strong rapport with Big Ben garnering good targets per game and finding the endzone in each game.

Where did it all go so wrong? Juju was moved to the outside amongst a Wide Receiving Corp that didn’t turn out to be what was advertised. James Washington did not produce as expected in year two. Diontae Johnson was good as a rookie but was used right and the Quarterback room was a disaster. Ben got injured and then Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges were both awful and both found themselves on the sideline at times. The Steelers also lost James Conner to injury and they relied on the Defence at all times to keep them in games.

Juju finished the year with 42 receptions for 552 yards and just three touchdowns. So why am I so high on him this year? Good question.

Bad Juju?

Tomlin has already spoken about moving Juju back to the slot and the drafting of Chase Claypool definitely points towards this being true. Claypool, Johnson and Washington will take on the outside allowing for Juju to roam around going from inside to out. Smith-Schuster already has an impeccable connection with Big Ben and in an off season where practice will be limited at best, connections are key going forward. Johnson by all accounts will operate in the Brown role allowing Juju to return to his old spectacular role.

The future in Pittsburgh for our boy Juju is unclear but for this year I have him going off. Juju by my projections will finish the year with 168 targets, 115 receptions, 1604yards and 7 touchdowns. Juju will also be involved in the ground game, rushing 11 times for 148 yards. All these numbers add up to 217.27 fantasy points in Standard Scoring. Prolific numbers! Big Ben is back and I expect the Steelers to throw the ball as they did in 2017 and 2018. Watch Smith-Schuster go wild.

No bad Juju here Rush Nation.

 

Rob (@CowsillRob)

Take 3: Darrynton Evans will be the rookie Austin Ekeler

You heard it here first.

There has been so much talk about rookie Running Backs coming in to lead back roles this season. Cam Akers is going to dominate the Rams backfield. D’Andre Swift is going to push Kerryon to the sidelines. CEH will be the Superbowl champs’ star back this year. These may all be true, but there is still a degree of uncertainty to all those predictions. It might be the fresh faces taking over. But it may be the old guard keeping their positions.

One thing that has definitely become certain over the last few weeks – Derrick Henry is staying at Tennessee. The Titans and the running back settled on a monster payout for the man who led the league for rushing yards in 2019. He will take home a $50 million deal, with just over half of that guaranteed. And Derrick will be rushing for another four more years.

This has come several months after the Titans drafted another running back in the draft. Darrynton Evans arrives in Tennessee with a third round pick. And this deal puts any rumour and speculation to bed – Evans will be the second choice.

But this may actually be good news for Evans, as his situation largely resembles that of another Running Back – Austin Ekeler.

Stuck Behind the Runner

Like Evans’ arrival in Tennessee, Ekeler turned up at the Chargers to find that Melvin Gordon was already shoehorned in as the lead back. As Gordon’s speciality was rushing, Ekeler found himself getting used more and more in the pass catching area. And this is where he found his niche. Ekeler carved himself out a more meaningful role than simply just support. A player who could burst out of the backfield and take the ball in space. His 2019 season was the most effective yet, picking up nearly 1000 yards in air yards.

That position has become affectionately known as the ‘Ekeler’ role. And it is one that Evans could fill this season. Henry is very well known for his rushing ability. He dominated the ground game last season, with over 1500 yards. But his involvement in the passing game was minimal. Only 18 receptions – just over 1 a game.

Henry’s minimal role in the passing game effectively reduced the number of players available for Ryan Tannehill to target. And, after trades and roster additions/departures, Tennessee find themselves with amongst the lowest number of offensive players. Amongst the players targeted in 2019, only two saw above 50 targets – AJ Brown and Corey Davis. Their completion rates are below 65%, most likely due to defensive coverage during games. Evans’ addition gives Tannehill another passing option, which will not only benefit his passing figures, but should open up players like Brown and Davis.

Granted, Henry’s role doesn’t leave Evans much to work with in the rushing game. Considering he finished his college career with nearly 1500 yards and 18 touchdowns in his final year, this is a bit of a shame. But this is where another comparison with Ekeler comes in.

College dominance 

Ekeler’s college stats don’t appear on the sports-reference.com website. Nor do his combine stats appear on any official chart. That’s because he came from Western Colorado, a relatively unknown college.

But his stats read out as though a god was playing on the field. Ekeler amassed 5,857 rushing yards over four years of college, smashing in 55 touchdowns on the ground. In comparison, his receiving game saw only 1,215 yards in the same span – and only 8 touchdowns. That is the same number of receiving touchdowns he got in 2019 alone.

That is what Ekeler could do in a Division 2 side – and we have all seen how he has turned out. Evans played Division 1 football and came out with a similar stat line in his last season. 1480 yards and 18 touchdowns. And when you add that that 5 receiving touchdowns he got in 2019 equalled that of Jonathon Taylor, then there could be something more to this take.

The size of a man

There’s even similarities to be found in the physical attributes of Ekeler and Evans. Both players are 5 foot 10 and their weights come within 3 lbs of each other. And it would be prudent to take the combine stats to compare the players further at similar points in their careers. But Ekeler was not invited that year – and so this is difficult to do. However, Evans recorded a blistering 4.41 40-yard dash, the fastest of the Running Backs this year. So he is no slouch when getting off the mark.

When you put all of these facts together, then there is a just cause for suggesting that Evans may be the under-the-radar breakout player. One that has been drowned out in the noise of lead back speculation. As a dynasty player, he may be one that pays out large dividends in years to come. But he could be the one to make a surprising impact this season as well!

 

Pittsy (@PittsyNFL)

Take 4: Kareem Hunt will be the highest scoring Browns RB in Fantasy this season

I’m not daft, I know Nick Chubb is a damn good RB and he’s ahead of Hunt on the depth chart in Cleveland. But I have a great feeling about Hunt this season.

Quite a few people suggested that the Browns would move on from Hunt come the start of the 2020 season. He comes with off-field baggage and the man that vouched for him has gone. However, they smacked a 2nd round tender on him and Hunt went and signed it. The Browns obviously have plans for Hunt with a tender like that put on him.

The 2019 season

Hunt didn’t start the 2019 season because of his baggage and missed the first 8 games. Once back in the team, Hunt started to take work away from Chubb.

From week 10 onwards, Hunt was used as a nice change of pace RB and predominantly a catching back. He churned out 464 scrimmage yards and of those, 285 were receiving yards. With Mayfield still uncomfortable in the pocket, a RB to dump the ball off to is quite useful.

2020 value

Going into this season, Hunt is still behind Chubb until further notice. With Hunt having signed that tender, things seem to point towards Hunt being used more in 2020.

Whilst at the Chiefs, he was a prolific scoring RB. Moving over to the Browns he is behind a good RB but could still be very useful. He’s only 24, turning 25 just before the season starts. Hunt is still a very good player.

Hunt picked up more receiving yards in his 8 games than Chubb got in the whole season. So we know that for a full season Hunt has the potential to produce in the passing game. The workload on Chubb last season was also pretty high. He attempted 298 rushes. With Hunt back, that is going to regress and with it so will his stats.

When given the chance, Hunt got a solid 4.2 yard per rushing attempt. That’s pretty good considering he was in and out of the line up with Chubb taking the workload. RB’s like to get volume to get a feel for the game and churn out the yards. So being able to average 4.2 on a handful of carries a game is useful.

One last thing

Hunt has the skills to be able to step up in the Browns backfield. Injuries and Covid aside the Browns will use Hunt more and more as his numbers start to rack up. If for any reason Chubb does go down though expect even bigger things from Hunt and his numbers to go through the roof.

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