Gut Check Check No.507: The 10 Toughest Picks of 2020

Matt Waldman profiles 10 players with a combination of positives and negatives that make them his toughest fantasy picks of 2020.

This article is about a 26-minute read.

Tough picks generate ambivalence within a fantasy owner. At the sight of their name, you can imagine the glorious heights of their ceilings and the dark and dank floors of their basements — and with little clarity about the direction that they're headed.

Here were my 10 Toughest Picks for 2019 in order of easiest to toughest:

  1. Curtis Samuel (Warranted): Ultimately the preseason hype was unbelievable and I continued to project Samuel as WR48. Samuel finished as the WR36 in PPR formats

  2. David Njoku (Warranted): Not buying the ADP that the fantasy community inflated due to athletic ability, Njoku couldn't stay healthy or in the good graces of the coaching staff. A year later, he wants a trade because he can see that Harrison Bryant and Austin Hooper will be the future of Cleveland's depth chart.

  3. Derrius Guice (Warranted): Love the talent but believed Guice was suffering from 2018 Ronald Jones II Syndrome--a condition where a portion of the fantasy community is deluded by the promise over the production of the player, his surrounding talent, and competition on the depth chart. Washington executive Doug Williams essentially characterized Guice as a likable kid who is "hard-headed" and must mature. Grice produced down the stretch but only played five games.

  4. David Montgomery (Warranted): I told readers last year that if I had to choose between Montgomery and Chris Carson despite the buzz for Rashaad Penny, I'd take Carson because the talented Montgomery still had a lot more to prove. Montgomery finished as RB24 in PPR formats, Carson finished as an RB12.

  5. Cooper Kupp (Ultimately Correct): Concerns about Kupp's timeline of rehab from a 2018 ACL dampened my outlook on Kupp in late June but I explained if all reports were good, I'd amend my outlook. Kupp performed as the No.4 fantasy receiver in 2019.

  6. Phillip Lindsay (Unwarranted): I was too cautious about Lindsay, who performed one spot better than his June '19 ADP of RB21. I preferred James White, who finished a spot above Lindsay and was available 10 picks later, and Tarik Cohen who also was 10 picks cheaper but finished as RB27. Not awful alternatives but the call on Lindsay was too low.

  7. Patrick Mahomes II (Warranted): I recommended bypassing Mahomes in 2019 because of his ADP and the uncertainty with Tyreek Hill. On a per-game basis that was a mistake if you had a quality backup. If not, it was the right call--especially if you took Dak Prescott as my top recommended alternative.

  8. Nick Chubb (Warranted): I recommended sticking with Chubb all year. While is production waned, I showed last week that the Browns offense and Baker Mayfield were a larger reason for Chubb's late-season dip than Kareem Hunt. Chubb finished as the No.8 back and if Mayfield and company were better during the final two games, Chubb would have been a top-five option. Even his dip was still fantasy RB2-caliber play.

  9. JuJu Smith-Schuster (Warranted): I had concerns that he'd have a streaky year with the loss of Antonio Brown to keep defenses honest, and Brown's absence and extra attention on Smith-Schuster would lead to low-end fantasy WR2, high-end fantasy WR3 production. Smith Schuster only played 12 games and the loss of Ben Roethlisberger derailed this offense. Even on a points-per-gam basis, Smith-Schuster wasn't a fantasy starter in three-receiver leagues. Considering his ADP was a top-15 pick, the caution due to the lack of surrounding talent (even with Roethlisberger was warranted.

  10. Le'Veon Bell (Warranted): While it wasn't what those to picked Bell hoped for, I considered Bell no worse than a fantasy RB2 option and he finished as the No.16 PPR back.

Overall, the Gut Check steered you right on about 8-9 of these picks, depending on how finely you followed the advice. Here are my 10 toughest picks heading into 2020 drafts. Yours will surely differ, but you may find that your picks share similar reasons as mine.

10. Noah Fant (ADP119, TE13)

Big, strong, fast, and an early pick of the Broncos last year, Fant was the No.10 fantasy tight end from Weeks 8-15. The Broncos found ways to target Fant on quick-hitting plays or designed looks that worked Fant open with a little extra help from teammates.

Fant's production also coincided with the Broncos trading Emmanuel Sanders and rolling with rookie quarterback Drew Lock. These two changes in personnel and the alteration of the offense to accommodate Lock were enough to throw off the advanced scouting for many offenses around the league.

Fast-forward to July, and the Broncos have acquired Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Lock's former teammate Albert Okwuegbunam. Jeudy has the skills and refinement to produce immediately as the flanker and slot receiver in two-, three-, and four-receiver sets. It's likely that Jeudy challenges Courtland Sutton for the team lead in targets and/or yardage.

Hamler will likely earn a contributing role in the offense when the Broncos use multiple receivers. His ability to stretch the field will benefit Jeudy, eventually force safeties to pay less attention to Sutten, and open the field for the tight ends.

Speaking of tight ends, Okwuegbunam's deep speed was the best measured at the Combine among the rookie tight ends. He's also an excellent fade-route option--a target type that is not Fant's strength. Lock and Okwuegbunam have excellent rapport from their years together at Missouri and Lock lobbied for the Broncos to select Okwuegbunam.

Combine these factors and there's a disturbing potential that Okwuegbunam renders Fant an afterthought in the red zone and Jeudy and Sutton are, by far, the top two receivers in terms of targets and yardage. We could be looking at Fant as a distant-third option, at best, and because of Okwuegbunam's high-leverage skill in the red zone and Hamler's big-play upside, Fant could be the fourth or fifth option on the box score despite earning significant snaps.

The Broncos have had a lot of failures with selecting the tight end position in the draft since Julius Thomas left. While Fant's athletic upside is undeniable and the baseline skills were enough to consider him one of the top prospects at his position in 2019, there were enough technical and conceptual problems with route running, positioning, and hand usage to recognize that Fant's floor was deeper than one might expect due to his enticing ceiling.

Verdict: There are too many targets that could limit Fant's upside in Denver, especially when comparing him to options available later in the draft. T.J. Hockenson is the better route runner and has a proven quarterback capable of supporting 3-4 productive receivers. Hockenson and Jones are also the top two red-zone options in this scheme and Hockenson is available within the same range as Fant.

Mike Gesicki has grown into a reliable seam threat and should benefit in Miami's play-action game. Dallas Goedert likely has as strong of a floor as Gesicki and both are available a round or two later.

If none of these options appeal to you, Eric Ebron and Greg Olsen join good offenses with star quarterbacks that have an affinity for what each receiver does well. Ebron is available 3-4 rounds later. Olsen is available 8-9 rounds later.

If you want to risk upside with athletic ability in a crowded depth chart situation, might I suggest O.J. Howard 100 picks later? At least at that spot, it's lower risk with equal-to-greater reward.

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