Fantasy Football Breakouts and Busts 2021: AJ Dillon vs. Kenyan Drake

Welcome to Breakouts and Busts where I highlight one breakout candidate and one bust candidate for the 2021 fantasy season. In this edition, I’ll be taking a look at two NFC running backs.

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BREAKOUT - AJ Dillon (RB - GB)


AJ Dillon taking a carry for the Green Bay Packers
AJ Dillon, AKA "QuadZilla"

2020 Season Overview

(stats from pro-football-reference.com)


AJ Dillon was seldom used in 2020. The Green Bay Packers’ 2019 2nd-round draft pick only received touches in 9 out of the team’s 16 games and had just one game all season with more than 5 carries, which was Week 16 AKA Fantasy Championship Week. Dillon looked absolutely incredible in that game, turning 22 touches into 129 yards and 1 TD. Despite his limited opportunities, Dillon was electric almost every time he touched the ball, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.


In the passing game, Dillon only saw 2 targets all season, but caught both of them for 21 yards. Aaron Rodgers trusted Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams more in the passing game, which makes sense considering Dillon was a rookie and isn’t known as a pass-catching back. He caught just 21 passes for Boston College in 3 years.


Despite being the 3rd string RB on the depth chart, AJ Dillon still found a way to make an impact and has given the Green Bay Packers a lot to think about entering the 2021 offseason.

What Went Wrong in 2020?

Limited opportunities.


Nothing necessarily went wrong for Dillon in 2020, he just didn’t get a lot of work so he wasn’t fantasy relevant last season, even when Aaron Jones was banged up. He had the one blow up game in Week 16 and that was it. The majority of his 2020 stats all came from that one game.


(stats from playerprofiler.com)


Dillon saw just a 16.9% snap share in 2020 despite playing on a team ranked 12th in run plays per game, leading to some lackluster productivity stats through no fault of his own. These things happen when you’re the 3rd string RB. Even though Dillon only had 48 touches all season, 5 of them were red zone touches, which is just over 10% of his touches. It wasn’t all bad, but there’s honestly not many stats to work with from last season. All you have to know is that AJ Dillon wasn’t used much in 2020.

What Will Change in 2021?

Dillon actually has a good chance to be the lead back for the Packers in 2021, if things go a certain way in the offseason.


Both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams will be unrestricted free agents this offseason and all rumors are pointing to Aaron Jones leaving the Green Bay Packers for a team that’s going to pay him the money he deserves. We all know how stingy the Packers are with their money, so I’m fairly confident Jones is going to leave. If Jones does indeed move on, Dillon will undoubtedly see more ground work and there will also be vacant targets in the passing game.


Since breaking out in 2018, Aaron Jones has averaged 190 rushing attempts and has seen an average of 55.3 targets per season with the Packers, so it’s completely possible for Dillon to handle 200 rushing attempts this season, something Jones has done in each of the last 2 seasons. As for those targets, I fully expect the Packers to not only sign a true WR2 this season to play alongside Davante Adams, but also sign a pass-catching back. These players will take most of those vacant targets away from Dillon, but the second-year RB should still see an uptick in targets. I expect Dillon to see around 25-35 targets next year, similar to what Derrick Henry’s numbers have been so far in Tennessee.


Speaking of Derrick Henry, that is exactly who Matt LaFleur sees AJ Dillon as. LaFleur was the former offensive coordinator for the Titans and has worked with Henry in the past, so it makes sense for him to use Dillon in a similar fashion to the 2020 rushing champ. Dillon’s going to be the early-down back and will also be out there on 3rd and short to pick up those easy first downs.


If you think about it, Dillon is the perfect RB for the Green Bay Packers. He’s a big dude, standing at 6’0’’ and weighing 247 pounds, and plays on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. When the weather gets cold and snowy, the last thing defenses want to see is this mammoth of a man charging at them 20+ times a game.


Verdict


As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, AJ Dillon is their 30th-ranked RB and 70th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted anywhere between the 5th and 6th rounds in 12 team mock drafts. That is just ridiculous value for a player who’s likely to be the starting RB in an elite offense. He’s going around the same time as other RBs like Kenyan Drake (RB - ARI), Kareem Hunt (RB - CLE), Ronald Jones (RB - TB) and Raheem Mostert (RB - SF). While Hunt and Jones are safer picks, you can’t go wrong with Dillon in this spot either.


Of course, if Aaron Jones does end up leaving the Packers in the offseason, then I expect Dillon to fly up draft boards and be taken somewhere in Round 3, similar to where Jonathan Taylor was being drafted last season. I still think he’s worth taking a shot on in Round 3 or 4, although it’s significantly riskier at that point.


While it’s foolish to expect AJ Dillon to put up Derrick Henry type numbers in 2021, he should still be drafted as an RB2 with RB1 upside. If Aaron Jones stays in Green Bay, I would stay away from Dillon this season, but if Jones leaves, then I would expect Dillon to have around 200 carries for 800-1000 yards and 8-10 TDs, adding 20 receptions for 200 yards and 2 TDs.


BUST - Kenyan Drake (RB - ARI)

Will Kenyan Drake be back with the Arizona Cardinals? Is Kenyan Drake worth drafting in fantasy for 2021?
Kenyan Drake as an Arizona Cardinal in 2020

2020 Season Overview


(stats from google.com)


2020 was Kenyan Drake’s first full season with the Arizona Cardinals and it had its fair share of ups and downs. The season did not start well at all for Drake. He failed to eclipse 95 total yards in any of his first 4 games and only scored 1 TD. Lots of fantasy managers were trying to trade Drake and he was labeled a bust after the first month, but then things turned around for him.


Drake went on to find the endzone 9 times in the remaining 11 games he took part in and also started getting a little bit more receiving work. He ended the year turning a whole 239 rushing attempts into just 955 yards. You’d expect most high level RBs to hit at least 1000 yards with all those attempts. In the receiving game, Drake caught 25 of his 31 targets for 137 yards and 0 TDs, which was incredibly underwhelming. Just to put things into perspective, Derrick Henry saw the same amount of targets last season. Yeah, that’s not what you expected when you drafted Drake in 2020.


Overall, that’s 264 touches for 1092 total yards and 10 total TDs. That’s not too bad on the surface, but when you take into consideration that Drake was being drafted in the 2nd round of 2020 fantasy drafts, it’s clear that it was a very disappointing season for the former Miami Dolphin.


What Went Right in 2020?

Touchdowns.


Kenyan Drake’s fantasy value was heavily inflated by his touchdown totals. If he didn’t fall into the endzone 10 times, he would’ve been dropped by the midway point of the season. Like I said earlier, Drake was having a really bad first quarter of 2020. He got things together in the running game by the end of the year and set a career high in rushing TDs with 10, but other than that, he actually had a bad season.


(stats from pro-football-reference.com)


Drake’s receiving stats were a surprise in the worst way possible. He was expected to be a three down back for the Arizona Cardinals heading into the 2020 season, especially considering he saw 35 targets in just 8 games with the club in 2019. Turning that into a full 16 game schedule, Drake would’ve been on pace for 70 targets and 56 receptions, which is the volume most of us expected him to see in 2020. Instead, DeAndre Hopkins and Chase Edmonds took all his targets and then some. Drake didn’t even see the 35 targets and 28 receptions he got in 2019, ending the season with just 31 targets and 25 receptions despite playing in 6 more games.


(stats from playerprofiler.com)


Taking a look at his opportunity and productivity, they’re not on the same level. He saw a 56.9% snap share on a team ranked 6th in run plays per game and had the 7th most carries in the entire NFL. He turned all those opportunities into a sub-1000 yard season. Sure, Drake still finished 12th in the NFL in rushing last season and would’ve most likely reached 1000 yards if he played a full season, but it’s still a lack of productivity considering how many rushing attempts he got. The only good news was that Drake saw the 4th most redzone touches in league and turned them into 10 TDs.


But the main issue is his lack of receiving yards and receiving TDs. If you would’ve told me before the 2020 fantasy season that Drake would finish 52nd in receiving yards for a RB with 137 and 34th in receptions for a RB with just 25 catches, I would’ve never believed you. He ranked 101st in fantasy points per opportunity which just goes to show how ineffective Drake was last season. He really let fantasy managers down in half and full PPR leagues.

What Will Change in 2021?

Nothing.


I truly believe that the Kenyan Drake we saw in 2020 is the Kenyan Drake that we will see in 2021. The Cardinals offense likely won’t see much change entering next season. Kliff Kingsbury will still be calling plays for the team and Chase Edmonds, Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are still under contract. I expect these three to be the focal point of the offense.


Edmonds was the Cardinals’ RB who got the passing work fantasy managers expected Drake to get last season. The pass-catching back hauled in 53 of his 67 targets for 402 yards and 4 TDs. Even though Edmonds only got into the endzone once on the ground, he averaged 0.6 more yards per carry than Drake, so Edmonds was more effective in both the rushing and passing game. I expect the Cardinals to give Edmonds an extended look in the running game next season, possibly even committing to him as their lead back. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they let Drake walk in free agency, considering he’s not under contract for the 2021 season.


Verdict


As of writing this article, according to Fantasy Pros, Drake is their 23nd-ranked RB and 50th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted in the 5th round, which is just way too early for a TD-dependent RB. Drake is going around the same time as AJ Dillon, Ronald Jones, Raheem Mostert and Kareem Hunt. I’d rather have any of those players than Drake. In fact, I would take David Johnson over him, even if Deshaun Watson isn’t the Texans’ starting QB next year.


Maybe, if the Cardinals don’t resign Drake, he could end up on a team that will actually use him in the passing game, but if he stays with the Cards, I don’t expect him to be anything more than a low-end RB2/high-end RB3. Expect 1000 total yards for Drake and closer to 6-8 total TDs in 2021.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully this article helps you decide on draft choice for your 2021 Redraft leagues, as well as Dynasty buy lows and sell highs for dynasty football formats.


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