This two-part series will focus on the offenses I’m most confident in for the 2020 season from a fantasy football perspective. Average draft position (ADP) references and all scoring data are based on Fantasy Pros’ PPR ADP and scoring rules.
As I wrote in the NFC Edition of this article, fantasy football success can sometimes be found simply by choosing players on teams that produce a lot of yards and touchdowns.
While not always true—Austin Ekeler finished as RB4 last year (the highest scoring AFC running back) despite playing for a subpar Chargers offense—it’s often easier to project which teams will have productive offenses when picking in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts than picking out which specific players might pop. The two biggest determinants to fantasy success are talent and opportunity, but a close third is overall strength of the team’s offense.
The following are my five tiers ranking the offenses I have the most confidence in for the 2020 season, from a fantasy football standpoint. This is the AFC Edition. I haven’t ranked the teams within the tiers, but the higher the tier, the more confident I’ll be in grabbing pieces of that offense.
Give Me All the Shares
Offensive Confidence Level: 9/10
Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans
These are without question the best offenses in the AFC based on what we know in August 2020. Each team in this tier has a legitimate juggernaut with a fantasy ceiling as high as any player in the league, whether that’s Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, Titans running back Derrick Henry, or Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill.
The Ravens obviously were a historically good offense in 2019. Jackson was the fantasy MVP, and Mark Andrews was an excellent value and bonafide fantasy stud. Going into 2020, while Jackson and Andrews are expensive, the rest of this offense could provide some value. While there is obvious confidence in this offense as a whole, there seems to be some hesitancy to draft the skill players. That has pushed the price tags of players like Mark Ingram (64 overall, RB 26), Marquis Hollywood Brown (currently going 72 overall, WR 31), and J.K. Dobbins (89 overall, RB 34) into reasonable territory given the upside of this offense.
We’ll have to see how the Ravens‘ offensive roles are defined this season, but this will be a great offense that should produce plenty of fantasy contributors.
All that said, I’m out on Jackson. I’m sure he’ll be a great QB1 this year, but the scarcity at other positions means I’m not drafting my quarterback at 22 overall where he’s currently going. I’m looking for this year’s Lamar Jackson, the guy you can draft late who can far outproduce his draft position. So I’m out on the high cost even though I’m confident in the Baltimore offense.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the unquestioned top offense in the NFL heading into 2020. I am buying any and all shares I can get my hands on. An entire lineup of Chiefs players would probably win most weeks. There’s no doubt about this offense, barring injury. Patrick Mahomes is my QB1 over Lamar Jackson. Heck, Hill has a legitimate shot to finish WR1, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has a legitimate shot to finish RB1 with Damien Williams opting out for the season, and Travis Kelce has a legitimate shot to finish TE1. No other offense has that kind of potential.
And it goes deeper than that. Sammy Watkins is going later than the 12th round as WR55. Certainly worth a flier with his new incentive-laden contract. And one of my favorite fantasy breakout candidates this season is Mecole Hardman, going a couple rounds earlier than Watkins. Either guy could pop as a viable WR2 this season and worst-case could be a spot start in the flex.
I’m not an advocate for drafting kickers, but if you must and you miss out on the GOAT Justin Tucker, Harrison Butker is being drafted as K2 for a reason.
Call me biased as I write this for a Tennessee Titans/Nashville-based website, but the Titans are the only other team in the AFC that I’m okay getting any piece of, whether that’s QB, RB, WR, or TE.
Henry is a no brainer first round pick after leading the league in rushing last season. Even if his overall workload takes a dip with Darrynton Evans joining the backfield, his efficiency—particularly in the red zone—makes him a strong candidate to score double-digit fantasy points any given week. Ryan Tannehill is being undervalued after finishing last season 9th-best among quarterbacks in points per game—an average that includes a Week 1 score of -0.2 (he took two kneeldowns) and his Week 6 game when he entered midway through the third quarter.
Tannehill has what could be a tough stretch to start the year against defenses like the Broncos, Vikings, and Bills in the first five games, but his second-half schedule looks favorable.
A.J. Brown needs to see a volume bump to justify his current WR16 ADP after finishing just WR31 last season in average points per game in PPR leagues, but Corey Davis could be a value stash as he’s currently going undrafted entirely. I wouldn’t roster any other Titans receivers.
Jonnu Smith is my favorite pick for breakout tight end this year. I think he’s poised and ready to make the leap, he has Tannehill’s trust after making some incredible grabs last season and then working out together all summer in Florida, and he finally should see all the snaps as the team’s TE1. I’m rostering him in every league.
Give me shares of all three of these explosive offenses.
Multiple Fantasy Starters
Offensive Confidence Level: 7/10
Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns
Just like with my NFC edition, this tier is for teams that have deep offensive rosters for fantasy purposes that I’m not super confident will make the leap to fantasy prominence from top to bottom.
It feels weird to be at a “7/10” confidence level with the Ohio clubs, but from a fantasy standpoint, I think you could do a lot worse. These teams go multiple players deep on offense and should produce fantasy starters up and down rosters.
For Cincinnati, it all comes down to Joe Burrow. If he can step in and upgrade the Bengals offense from day 1, the team could be full of fantasy studs at a great value, including Burrow as ADP’s current QB19. Shares of this offense are inexpensive (in terms of draft cost) right now, and this could end up being a high scoring unit.
Joe Mixon, currently going 12th overall (9th in non-PPR leagues), was RB6 over the second half of last season (Weeks 8-17). Suffering through Cincinnati’s lackluster offense (25th in yards per drive, 29th in points per drive), Mixon didn’t find the end zone on the ground until Week 11. He finished the year with just 5 rushing scores despite finishing 6th in total carries last season.
According to Pro Football Focus, over his final 8 games, Mixon broke 44 tackles on fewer than 200 touches and averaged over 3.6 yards after contact per rush attempt.
From Warren Sharp: “With that late-season surge, Mixon closed the year handling 84.0% of the Cincinnati backfield rushing attempts (third in the league) and 79.0% of their overall backfield touches, which also ranked third.”
His lack of touchdowns is a true anomaly likely to revert towards the mean in 2020. Only three running backs had a higher “expected” fantasy points in the red zone based on their opportunities (according to Sharp Football Analysis), but Mixon was just unable to find the end zone. I think Mixon should be a first round pick in every league with a very real shot to finish RB1 this year.
If the entire offense takes a leap forward, not only will Mixon see a jump in fantasy points, Tyler Boyd (currently WR30) should be a consistent WR2 (I’m out on A.J. Green until he proves he can stay healthy). Differentiating between those receivers is a matter of personal preference. I’m probably not taking a flier on Tee Higgins in redraft leagues, but I would pick him high in a rookie draft/dynasty league. Probably staying away from tight end C.J. Uzomah, but he’s at the very least a tight end streaming option to remember.
Overall (as you can tell by me writing way too much), I’m high on the Bengals offense and would pick them as my favorite team to “make the leap” in the AFC when it comes to offensive success and fantasy relevancy.
Call me crazy—really call anyone crazy who would ever invest in the Browns—but if things don’t completely fall apart again, the Browns should have a bounty of fantasy starters. Nick Chubb is an obvious stud currently going as RB9. I would take him over Miles Sanders, Mixon, and Dalvin Cook, the three running backs currently going ahead of him. I’m not really concerned about or interested in Kareem Hunt outside of as a handcuff to Chubb.
Baker Mayfield could work as a rotational streaming quarterback option with QB1 upside. That would coincide with Jarvis Landy and Odell Beckham Jr. returning to fantasy prominence as well.
The same way talented players like post-2018 Mahomes and post-2019 Jackson stand to regress after seasons of unbelievable production, talented players like Beckham and Landry are due for positive regression—not in the sense of moving backwards, but regressing towards their career averages—and therefore these players can be drafted at a value. Beckham, who at one point recently was being drafted as a routine first round pick, is currently going 31st overall. That’s the combination of value and talent I’m looking for. Jarvis Landry at WR29 in the 6th round could also pay off as a productive flex option.
Austin Hooper and David Njoku (who we now know will NOT be traded) may work well together, or they may cause unpredictable headaches over which one might produce on a weekly basis. I’d lean towards Austin Hooper if I had to pick one, given his history of production and the contract Cleveland gave him, but I’d be worried about Njoku vulturing some redzone looks, so I’m probably staying away. This might be a more effective tandem in actual football than it is in fantasy.
Might Have Some Value
Offensive Confidence Level: 5/10
Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos
These are teams that I’m either willing to take a chance on or that have one or two reliable players and a lot of question marks. The Broncos are trendy picks to make a big leap on offense. The Steelers are trendy picks to bounce back on offense.
My mid-level confidence in the Steelers has more to do with the uncertainty of injury than it does actual confidence in their abilities. If health doesn’t scare you, James Conner should be productive as long as he’s on the field and could be in line for a major bounce back season. Ben Roethlisberger is a potentially strong streaming option who could be part of your quarterback rotation. If he stays healthy, he’s a good bet for 4000+ yards and close to 30 touchdowns.
Juju Smith-Schuster is similar to Beckham and Landry in that he should regress (in a good way) towards his career averages, especially with competent quarterback play and a talented receiving threat across from him. Smith-Schuster is going right behind Beckham at 32 overall, and I’d be happy to land either of those guys. However, that talented receiving threat I mentioned is Diontae Johnson, who was quietly productive for a rookie last year with subpar passers under center. At WR38 in the 8th or 9th round, I’m trying to draft Johnson in every league as a flier WR3 with the upside to be more than that. Finally, Eric Ebron isn’t a bad flier or rotational streaming option at tight end.
This entire offense goes down the drain, however, if Roethlisberger has to miss time. For that reason, I’m willing to take a chance on Conner and Smith-Schuster because they’re going late enough that if the offense does stagnate, it won’t kill your entire team. The upside if Big Ben stays healthy is worth that risk to me.
The Broncos, much like the Bengals and Browns, are another AFC team captained by a confident, young quarterback that could make a statistical leap on offense this season. Drew Lock started the final five games of 2019 and finished with 1,020 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. I’m not drafting Lock in a 1-QB league, but he’s a waiver option to keep an eye on. Courtland Sutton is a trendy sleeper at wide receiver, but I’m not as bullish on him at his current WR17 ADP. From Weeks 13-17 last season, while Lock was active and starting, Sutton was just WR26. Part of that was he and Lock getting used to each other, but I’m not sure Sutton‘s production will improve heading into 2020.
The Broncos should be better on defense with Bradley Chubb returning from ACL, they added Jerry Jeudy to the receiving corps, and now have Melvin Gordon in the backfield to pair with Phillip Lindsay, and Pat Shurmur is installing his offense and will be calling plays. The offense could be good, or it could take some time to find its rhythm in a COVID-affected offseason with a questionable offensive line.
I expect Sutton‘s overall usage to go down, so I think he is a year away from blossoming as a fantasy star. And I’m avoiding the rest of the pieces in this offense because to me, the value doesn’t match the potential. (All that said, I have scooped up Sutton in a few mock drafts where he’s fallen later than his average draft position because I really do like his talent.)
Stars and Scrubs
Offensive Confidence Level: 3/10
Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders, Houston Texans
These are the teams that have one or two fantasy studs and a whole of “no thanks.” If for example I’m going to take a flier on a late round receiver, these are not the teams I’m choosing from.
That’s right, the Buffalo Bills are to me a fantasy wasteland. You can spare me the cases for Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. I’m 100% out on this offense from a fantasy standpoint in 2020.
The Bills will probably win the AFC East for the first time in 25 years—as Zach emphasized on last week’s F Words podcast, they damn well should win the AFC “Least”—but that doesn’t mean this offense will produce a bunch of fantasy stars.
I’m not saying zero Bills will have fantasy relevance, more that I am not confident rostering anyone from this team that, in my belief, wants to win by slowing down the game and playing stout defense combined with turnover-free offense. That means a slower pace, less total snaps, and less fantasy points to go around.
(Bare with me, this is a long-winded explanation because I feel like it’s somewhat controversial to have the Bills ranked this low).
Josh Allen broke through as a bonafide QB1 last season, finishing 6th among quarterbacks in total points. However, when sorting by average points per game, Tannehill, Mahomes, and others (like my boy Matthew Stafford) push Allen down to the overall QB11.
Obviously the argument for Allen as a fantasy QB1 is the production he provides with his legs. Allen has a shot to be a fringe QB1 again this season, mostly due to the rushing yards he adds. Where I’m wary is the rushing touchdowns. Last year, Allen had 9 red zone rushing scores, 7 coming from inside the 10-yard-line and 5 coming from inside the 5.
If those up-close scores go to Devin Singletary or rookie Zack Moss, that’d result in a substantial drop-off for Allen‘s fantasy points. If Allen had “only” scored 4 rushing touchdowns last year—still a high number for a quarterback—he would’ve dropped to QB13 in overall points and QB19 by average points per game. Could he offset that with an increase in passing production, which could see improvement with the addition of Diggs at wide receiver? Sure, he could, but with a bevy of other quarterback options available, I’m not hitching my fantasy wagon to Josh Allen or any of his weapons for consistent fantasy production.
Singletary is going far too high at RB25—give me Raheem Mostert at RB26 all day over Singletary—because I don’t think the Bills view him as a feature back. If they did, they wouldn’t have drafted Moss, the only player on the Bills that I’m targeting this season.
Moss is a late-round stash at RB46 who could end up carrying the majority of the early down and goal line workload in Buffalo. Frank Gore, who had to be admitted to a retirement home midway through last season (kidding, obviously), still managed 160 carries. Even when it was clear he was not an effective runner anymore, Singletary still didn’t get the goal line carries, finishing with just three attempts from inside the 10-yard line all season.
Gore had a successful red zone rushing rate of 35% according to Sharp Football Stats, good for 91st in the league of 108 qualified backs. He was terribly ineffective. So Gore was bad in the red zone, and Singletary was not used in the red zone, hence Josh Allen‘s 9 red zone rushing touchdowns.
Enter Zack Moss, who ran for 15 scores last season at Utah, drafted most likely to be Buffalo‘s early down and short yardage back. On a team with a good defense that wants to control the clock, Moss is the Buffalo Bill to draft.
Austin Ekeler is a star. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry all have potential, but I’m not confident in any of them, nor am I confident in this offense. The defense should be good, but I wouldn’t trust Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert to lead a high-powered attack.
I am avoiding the Patriots from a fantasy perspective with the exception of James White, who has the potential to be the most consistent offensive producer on this team if he can stay healthy. Cam Newton created a lot of yards for Christian McCaffrey as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, and he may do the same for White.
Similar to the Chargers, the only Raiders player I’m drafting is the lead running back, in this case Josh Jacobs. He should carry the load for this offense, but unfortunately for Las Vegas, I just don’t think this offense will be that good in 2020. The weapons are enticing, but I believe they are still a year (and maybe a quarterback) away. Rookie receivers Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs III will make some splash plays this season, but no chance am I counting on them to be consistent fantasy scorers.
Deshaun Watson is a star. Will his production suffer with the loss of safety blanket/cheat code DeAndre Hopkins? Probably. The running back situation is a mess. The only player I am interested in drafting from the Texans offense is wide receiver Will Fuller. He should have more opportunities for targets with Hopkins gone, he has the most familiarity with Watson of any of the pass catchers, and his potential to be the highest scoring receiver any given week at his current price tag of 81st overall makes him a potential league-winner with minimal downside (a 7th-round pick) if he gets injured or doesn’t pan out.
Avoid These Teams Entirely
Offensive Confidence Level: 1/10
Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets
I’m not drafting fantasy players from any of these teams. That doesn’t mean they won’t have solid offenses and/or a few fantasy producers, but I’m not taking the risk on players from these teams.
How could you feel confident starting any member of the Colts offense? Philip Rivers appeared to be way past the point of being effective last season from my rewatch. He’s had a very limited offseason to get familiar with his new pass-catchers, and even so, it’s not like he has the greatest crop of receivers. T.Y. Hilton hasn’t managed to stay healthy much in recent years, Michael Pittman Jr. is a rookie trying to get up to speed in a COVID-affected season, and the rest of the bunch are JAGs.
The lead running back might be Marlon Mack or it might be Jonathan Taylor. Nyheim Hines might steal some touches, too. I’m staying away from pretty much this entire offense. While I do think the Colts will be a productive team with the ball, I don’t have confidence starting any of these players in my fantasy lineup. Even the tight ends, Jack Doyle and the recently-signed Trey Burton, will probably vulture each other’s production. Burton did work with head coach Frank Reich on the Eagles’ Super Bowl team, so if I had to pick one player from the Colts to roster this season as a deep league stash, it’s probably Burton at his current undrafted price tag.
The Jaguars are the number two candidate to completely implode this season, behind a team further down this list (and not the Dolphins). Leonard Fournette was miserably inefficient last season, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he was benched or traded at any point this year. If the coaching staff gets canned, then truly all bets are off in terms of player usage. D.J. Chark is the only player even a little bit interesting, and he’s going way too high for me in the 5th round.
The Dolphins could take a big step forward this year, but I don’t have confidence in the offensive pieces from a fantasy standpoint. Hyping up Devante Parker is an annual offseason tradition, and this year might finally be the year (he was the overall WR2 from weeks 5-17 last season), but if the Dolphins change quarterbacks midseason, you may end up regretting that 5th-round pick, but I can’t blame you if you’re high on Parker. Good luck figuring out who to start between Jordan Howard and Matt Breida, though.
Two words: dumpster. fire. Two more words: Adam. Gase. Mixing those words up: fire Adam Gase… into a dumpster.
We covered this topic, talking through every AFC team in detail, on a recent episode of The Flex. Check it out to hear Ryan, Zach, and Robert yell at me about these rankings.
And once again here’s the link to the NFC Edition…
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below!