Embrace the Fantasy Football fever! With all the time you have in quarantine there is no better time than now to start your fantasy football research. Heading into the season you have to have a plan to add a fantasy X factor to your team and how they can spark your team to victory.
A fantasy X factor is that player who will be available later in drafts and has the upside to spark your team and provide early-round value. These are players who might be in crowded or uncertain situations, but who might also have the talent to break out and take the league by storm. Any strong team has at least one fantasy X factor if they hope to contend for a fantasy championship.
1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire RB Chiefs
Edwards-Helaire is one of the more complete running backs to come into the NFL in a while. He averaged 6.9 yards per touch on 270 touches as a senior at LSU. His hard-nosed running ability and pass-catching ability are an amazing fit for Andy Reid’s offense in Kansas City.
The one thing standing between Edwards-Helaire and superstardom is shoulda-been Super Bowl MVP Damien Williams. Williams was a solid performer all along in 2019 and was a touchdown machine, especially in the playoffs. Edwards-Helaire may not be the day one starter, especially with this weird offseason, but he has the talent to step up into the lead role before the end of the season and the skills to peak as a top-ten running back. Oh, and that RPO that Kansas City loves to run? Here is a nice little stat courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Highest RPO usage in 2019: Kansas City Chiefs
Highest-graded college RB on RPOs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire pic.twitter.com/2ffrlHFucr
— PFF (@PFF) May 8, 2020
2. Joe Burrow QB Bengals
Joe Burrow steps into an offense that lacked its number one weapon (AJ Green) last year and looked downright anemic at times. Andy Dalton is a capable quarterback, but without weapons, no quarterback can make something from nothing. Tyler Boyd and company are solid but adding Tee Higgins via the draft and AJ Green returning from injury stacks this offense beyond belief.
Burrow was a prolific passer his senior year of college at LSU and heading into his first year in Cincinnati he has the weapons to repeat that success. Standing in his way is a shotty offensive line that allowed 48 sacks in 2019, but with some retooling may be stronger and give him time to find the weapons. Burrow may not go for 50+ touchdowns, but he has the weapons and might have the ability to go for at least 30. He is a fantasy X factor who has definite top-15 quarterback upside if it all comes together.
3. Rob Gronkowski TE Buccaneers
The Gronk Spike might be back for another ride in Tompa Bay. Gronk and Brady reunite for another season in the saddle, but questions about Gronk’s ability to play a full schedule come front and center. Gronk has not played a full 16 games since 2011. Since then he has missed time for every football ailment you can think of.
Add in his tendency to go hard when on the field and invite collisions, it remains to be seen how much he will play. When he is at his best, Gronk is the best tight end to ever play the game, but for fantasy purposes, he is a gamble and a high-risk/high-reward play. When you also consider that the Bucs have two other capable tight ends, it is unclear if Gronk will see the field. He has top-12 tight end upside, but it is not unlikely that he misses games and will not be worth his draft position.
4. Brandin Cooks WR Texans
The departure of DeAndre Hopkins leaves Houston with an astonishing 44% of their targets no longer on their team. Replacing Hopkins is a motley crew of receivers in Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Randall Cobb, and Brandin Cooks.
Sean McVay teenage-girl-tittering about Brandin Cooks' speed gives me hope for the world pic.twitter.com/035D1Lvfv2
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) May 24, 2018
Cooks has been a prolific receiver for all four teams he has played for. Before last year he had not missed a game since his rookie year and averaged 114+ targets per year. Cooks brings big-play potential and the versatility to be a true lead receiver for the Texans. With a player of Will Fuller’s talents also drawing attention deep downfield, look for Cooks to go to work on defenses all over the field. Cooks has the talent to be a top-end wide receiver and fantasy X factor. Deshaun Watson will love working with Cooks and certainly lock in with him often if Cooks slides into the majority of Hopkins’ role he will be a top-15 wide receiver.
5. Deebo Samuel WR 49ers
Over the course of 2019, Samuel was a boom/bust candidate each week. He would haul in eight passes for 134 one week and then be held to one catch for 29 yards four weeks later. With the departure of Emanuel Sanders, defenses will be keying in on Samuels.
He has the talent to potentially be a lead receiver in a run-first offense in San Francisco. Especially if Shanahan keeps finding inventive ways to put the ball in his hands, he had five straight games with a carry to close out the season, eight if you include the playoffs. Samuel could be a top 20 wide receiver if he takes steps forward, but he carries some bust potential as defenses will pay more attention to him.
6. Ian Thomas TE Panthers
Last year in Carolina, the top two tight ends were targeted a combined 112 times. Greg Olsen has now moved on to Seattle leaving Ian Thomas as the most experienced tight end on their roster.
However, Carolina also has a new quarterback and coaching staff in town. Presumed starter Teddy Bridgewater loves his tight ends. He really loves them. In 2015, his last full season as a starter, he targeted Kyle Rudolph the second most times of all receivers. With a bevy of smaller and speedy receivers, look for Teddy to target Thomas early and often. Thomas is a safer bet as a fantasy X factor as he has top-end tight end upside and a floor of being at least tight end 16.
7. Todd Gurley RB Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons will be a pass-first team in 2020. They threw the ball 655 times last year and it looks like they will continue that trend. That being said, there are 184 carries no longer on the Atlanta roster with the departure of Devonta Freeman.
I wonder if this play had anything to do with Atlanta taking a shot on Todd Gurley this season.
How many RBs can grab a 20 yard back shoulder fade, have sideline awareness, and rotate body as falling to the ground to ensure a competed catch?
It’s a short list. pic.twitter.com/oY5Y7Xbm6w
— Curtis Patrick – RotoViz (@CPatrickNFL) May 4, 2020
Gurley is a physical back, when his arthritic knees are not acting up and limiting him, and can provide a stronger option in goal-to-go situations than Freeman was. Gurley is at a stage in his career when he is best when he plays sparingly and does not have to carry an offense. Matt Ryan, Julio, Calvin Ridley, and the rest of the passing attack will carry the offense. Gurley only has to provide short yardage gains and a good ground option occasionally to change the pace. Barring injury, Gurley has the potential to be a top 15 running back this year.
8. Devonta Freeman RB Free Agent
Speaking of Devonta, he is still unsigned heading into the 2020 season. Over the last two years, he has struggled mightily on a pass-happy Falcons team. Especially last year the Falcons offense went through some dry spells and suffered through a Matt Ryan injury that hampered them as well.
Freeman has the capability to be a productive running back in an offense where he is not asked to drive the entire offense. There will be injuries to backs at some point this year and someone will give Freeman a chance. When they do, look for Freeman to be a capable fill-in. If he gets picked up before the season by the right team he could provide late-round value with top-20 upside.
9. Breshad Perriman WR Jets
Perriman has the pedigree to be a talented option for Darnold. Down the stretch, in Tampa last year he earned the trust of Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians, while also winning several leagues for people who scooped him up after Evans and Godwin went out. Perriman looks like he could be the number one receiver option for the Jets and has the talent to be a top-20 wide receiver as well.
10. Antonio Brown WR Free Agent
Antonio Brown is not presently on an NFL roster and there are some questions about his eligibility when he does finally return. Despite all of that, he has the talent to be a top-ten receiver and can easily step onto the field and provide a spark for any team.
There is always that one guy in your league, maybe it is you, who takes the chance on the suspended or free agent receiver. In almost every year they never end up panning out but never has the receiver in question been as talented as AB. In true fantasy X factor fashion, if he plays he will be a league-winning value for your team.