49ers TE George Kittle should rebound next season
By Calvin K (Twitter: @Calvin_SGF)
As usual, there were lots of fantasy breakouts in 2020, but also per usual, many players didn’t live up to expectations last season. There are things to be learned by those busts, but a lot of underperformance can be due to mitigating situations (injury, surrounding talent, etc.). As such, many of these busts could see improved production in 2021. Below are five fantasy players due for a bounceback year.
1. George Kittle (TE, San Francisco 49ers)
Kittle is an obvious bounce-back pick for next year, but he still tends to be overshadowed given the fantasy dominance of Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. This isn’t to diminish that duo’s 2020 accomplishments by any means, but Kittle seems to be slipping a little too far in midsummer drafts due to fatigue from his injury-plagued year.
Kittle’s 1,377 yards in a 2018 breakout campaign are still the second-most ever put up by a TE all time. On top of that, his 2020 season still had a pace of 96 receptions for 1,268 yards, and that’s including the two games he left early due to injury. Even when on the field, Kittle wasn’t always healthy, and yet he was still able to produce like an elite fantasy tight end. That positional advantage should not be overlooked, so it’s important to move beyond injury fatigue and see the value in his current draft price.
2. Julio Jones (WR, Tennessee Titans)
Jones is another player who will improve dramatically in 2021 assuming he’s able to stay on the field. Last year, Jones had just seven games with a snap share over 75%, and due to hamstring problems, he never was able to stay fully healthy for an extended period of time. However, in those seven games, he still averaged 8.9 targets and 6.4 catches per game, proving that, when healthy, he’s still a major problem for opposing defenses.
Jones is 32 years old, but there’s still reason to believe that his injuries could be a problem exclusive to 2020. The scars he left on fantasy managers last year obscured the fact that he hasn’t missed more than two games in a season since 2013, and he’s missed more than three only one other time in his 10-year career. With 848 catches and nearly 13,000 yards under his belt, he’s proven time and time again that he can put up big fantasy numbers.
Now, as Jones moves teams for the first time in his career, questions could arise about whether he can produce given a likely deduction in target share. Sharing touches with A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry will make it nearly impossible for Jones to receive the same heavy workload he’s gotten in past years, but that could actually be a good thing for his fantasy value. For the first time, Jones isn’t the number one offensive option on his own team, and the lessened defensive attention could help him thrive, as he’ll be facing one-on-one battles with cornerbacks more consistently than he ever has. Overall, it’s a near certainty that a healthy Jones blows away the injury-riddled totals that we saw in 2020, and he should be back in fantasy relevance once again.
3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB, Kansas City Chiefs)
Edwards-Helaire had a very disappointing 2020, and that was partially due to his skyrocketing fantasy price, as he was a consensus back-of-the-first round RB due to his situation in Kansas City. CEH also dealt with injuries last year, missing three games, and when he was on the field, he just didn’t garner the full three-down workload that many expected him to receive.
Surprisingly, Edwards-Helaire actually averaged 13.9 attempts per game last season, which seems high given that he was generally tough to rely on in fantasy. The signing of Le’Veon Bell kept this number even lower than it could’ve been, and although Bell didn’t work out in KC, he still limited CEH’s touch count overall. However, the area where Edwards-Helaire was really disappointing was in the passing game, as his 2.8 reception average fell well short of what we expected from him, given that his specialty is catching passes out of the backfield. Thankfully, Le’Veon Bell is gone now, and the word is that Edwards-Helaire may develop into more of a workhorse in Year 2, with the biggest bump coming in the form of third-down usage. Even if CEH doesn’t become a true bell cow, it makes sense to project a noticeable increase in touches, and with it should come more fantasy production.
4. Jerry Jeudy (WR, Denver Broncos)
Jeudy actually received 113 targets last year, but he caught just 52 in a messy season that saw him tossed into the fire as Denver’s WR1 almost immediately following the injury of Courtland Sutton. Jeudy should now face less pressure with Sutton returning, and it’s possible, even likely, that the erratic play of QB Drew Lock won’t be what he relies on in 2021. Teddy Bridgewater will compete with Lock for the starting role, and he’s likely to get it at some point given that he’s at least had moderately consistent production throughout his career.
Although consistent, Bridgewater isn’t anything special by any means, and his arrival will hardly fix everything for the Broncos. However, it should mean more production for Jeudy in 2021, primarily because we’ve already seen evidence that Bridgewater can support two productive fantasy receivers (D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson in 2020). Moore and Anderson both eclipsed the 1,000-yard threshold last year, and there’s reason to think that Sutton and Jeudy can do the same, given that they are similar talent-wise to the duo in Carolina. It’s very possible that Jeudy never becomes elite for fantasy purposes, but with Bridgewater in town, we should see a major step up from the atrocious 39.1% catch rate Jeudy had last year, which alone will lead to a sizeable upwards bump in fantasy production.
5. Raheem Mostert (RB, San Francisco 49ers)
This last pick is one that can, understandably, be difficult for analysts to get behind, given that the 49ers have major competition in their backfield. However, I truly believe that a healthy Mostert is and will continue to be this team’s best RB, and if he can avoid injuries, Mostert’s efficiency could lead to very viable fantasy production.
San Francisco and Kyle Shanahan will likely still favor a running-back-by-committee approach given that there are multiple talented players in their backfield. I expect Mostert to hold the lead role if this is the case, and I don’t think that the team will feel a need to force rookie 3rd-rounder Trey Sermon into major year-one action. Sermon is a solid player, but he’s unproven, and the fact that he was a late Day 2 draft pick highlights that he’s far from a guarantee to succeed. Mostert’s average of 5.4 yards per carry in 2019 in 2020 is extremely good, and his blazing speed and acceleration mean he’s likely to continue putting up those numbers in 2021. If he does, there will be no excuse for the 49ers to keep him off the field, and the lead back role in their prolific offense could create very solid fantasy numbers.