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 a forgotten WR in San Francisco and the RB1 in Las Vegas.
BREAKOUT - Deebo Samuel (WR - SF)
2020 Season Overview
(stats from pro-football-reference.com)
Samuel had a good rookie campaign in 2019 and showed plenty of explosiveness. He played in 15 games, catching 57 of his 81 targets for 802 yards and 3 total TDs. On the ground, he ran the ball 14 times for 159 yards and 3 TDs. In total, that’s 71 touches for 961 total yards and 6 total TDs. Not a bad rookie season at all, but that was 2019.
In 2020, things didn’t go as swimmingly for the San Francisco 49ers WR. Deebo fought a hamstring injury most of the season, so he only played in 7 games. On top of that, the emergence of Brandon Aiyuk pushed Deebo down the Niners depth chart to WR2 status. In the 7 games he played, Samuel caught 33 of his 44 targets for 391 yards and 1 TD. On the ground, he turned 8 attempts into 26 yards and 0 TDs. Overall, that’s 41 touches for 417 total yards and 1 total TD. It’s not what you expected from Deebo Samuel, but you can never predict injuries in fantasy football. He finished as the WR96 in half and full PPR leagues.
What Went Wrong in 2020?
Injuries and the emergence of Brandon Aiyuk.
No matter how good you are as a player, you just can’t put up good fantasy numbers if you’re injured for more than half of the season. Even fantasy darling Davante Adams wouldn’t be able to finish as a WR3 with just 7 games under his belt. For that reason, it’s no surprise Deebo didn’t have a good 2020 season for fantasy purposes.
While you could solely blame injuries for his bad year, there was another concern as well and that came in the form of rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk. Deebo and Aiyuk are both 6’0” tall WRs weighing 215 and 200 lbs respectively. They’re both skilled catchers of the ball as well as solid runners. It’s clear that the Niners value these gadget-type wide receivers who keep defenses guessing all game long.
When Samuel and Aiyuk were both healthy at the beginning of the season, they put up nearly identical numbers. Once the team was without Deebo and their elite TE George Kittle, Aiyuk exploded, ending the year with 96 targets and scoring 8 total TDs. It seems to me that Aiyuk has done enough to be the WR1 for the 49ers heading into 2021, but that job is definitely still up for grabs.
What Will Change in 2021?
It’s really hard to predict injuries in fantasy football, but if Deebo Samuel can remain healthy for a whole season, he’s primed for a breakout campaign in 2021.
If you take Deebo’s stats from the 7 games he appeared in last season and average them out over a full 16 game schedule, he would’ve ended the year with 75 receptions on 101 targets for 894 yards and 2 TDs. On the ground, Samuel would’ve had 18 carries for 59 yards and 0 TDs. In total, that’s 93 touches for 953 total yards and 2 total TDs. Sure, those TD totals aren’t great, but the receiving stats are solid. Those numbers would’ve made Deebo the WR37 in both half and full PPR leagues last season.
Deebo averaged 6.3 targets and 4.7 receptions per game in 2020, which was higher than the 5.4 targets and 3.8 receptions per game he averaged in his rookie season. He also improved his receiving yards per game from 53.5 in 2019 to 55.9 in 2020 as well as his catch percentage from 70.4% in 2019 to 75% in 2020.
As you can see, Deebo made some pretty big strides in his short sophomore campaign that may have flown under the radar. If he can stay healthy, I believe he could get close to 1000 receiving yards, run for at least 200 yards and triple his TD totals from last season. Even with a healthy George Kittle, I think these numbers are obtainable for Deebo Samuel.
As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, Deebo is their 35th-ranked WR and 83rd overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted anywhere between the 7th and 9th round in 12 team mock drafts. Considering he has the potential to be a solid WR2, I would be chomping at the bit to try and grab Deebo in the mid-to-late rounds. He’s going around the same time as other WRs, such as Brandin Cooks (HOU), Curtis Samuel (WAS) and Jarvis Landry (CLE). I think Cooks will take a step back with Deshaun Watson expected to serve a suspension and you know what you’re going to get with Landry. The two Samuels are both good choices in this range as they have the highest upside.
I project Deebo to catch 75 of his 100 targets for 950 yards and 5 TD. On the ground, I can see Samuel running the ball 20 times for 200 yards and 2 TDs. In total, that’s 95 touches for 1150 total yards and 7 total TDs. Those numbers would’ve made Deebo the WR15 in half PPR leagues and the WR17 in full PPR leagues last season. I’m bullish on Deebo Samuel this season and think he can be an absolute steal at his current ADP.
BUST - Josh Jacobs (RB - LV)
2020 Season Overview
(stats from profootballreference.com)
Josh Jacobs’ sophomore campaign was significantly rockier than his rookie season, but despite his inconsistency, Jacobs still found a way to produce for fantasy. The workhorse running back for the Las Vegas Raiders gave managers what they expected: plenty of carries. The issue was that Jacobs was much less efficient with those carries in his sophomore season. His yards per carry decreased from 4.8 to 3.9 and even his yards per reception decreased from 8.3 to 7.2. What didn’t decrease were his TDs, as he scored 12 last season compared to 7 in his rookie year. Jacobs also saw more receiving work in 2020 as both his targets and receptions were up.
Jacobs ended the season with 273 rushing attempts for 1065 yards and 12 TDs. Through the air, he hauled in 33 of his 45 targets from 238 yards and 0 TDs. Overall, that’s 306 touches for 1303 total yards and 12 total TDs, averaging 4.3 yards per touch. Jacobs was one of the first 12 RBs taken in 2020 fantasy drafts and, although he scored less than 10 fantasy points in 6 out of his 15 games, he ended the season as the RB8 in half and full PPR leagues.
What Went Right in 2020?
A wealth of opportunities in a run-first offense.
As a team, Las Vegas called 457 running plays last season, the 11th most in the NFL, and Jacobs handled 273 of those carries. He even missed a game last season, so his 16-game pace would’ve been 291 carries, good enough for 3rd most in the league. Jacobs was involved in 59.7% of the team’s running plays, which naturally led to production, even though he was actually quite inefficient overall. What I’m saying is that, even though Jacobs was wildly inconsistent and oftentimes inefficient, his workload was enough to single handedly make him an RB1 for fantasy.
(stats from playerprofiler.com)
Taking a look at opportunity, we can see that Jacobs ranked 11th or higher in every single metric other than targets, where he was ranked 24th, which still isn’t too bad. It’s clear that the Raiders view him as their feature back and they sure featured him early and often last season. The statistic that stands out the most to me is his red zone touches. Jacobs had 65 red zone targets, the 2nd most in the entire league, and that led to his 12 rushing TDs.
In terms of productivity, we don’t see as many impressive numbers from Jacobs. Sure, his rushing yards and total TDs rank inside the top 8 in the NFL, but that’s expected from a workhorse back getting all the red zone touches. His 0.73 fantasy points per opportunity, which divides a player’s total fantasy points by their carries and targets combined, is a shockingly low 96th in the league. This all indicates that Jacobs got a lot of opportunities and didn’t do much with them. He definitely could’ve finished as the RB4 on the year if he was as efficient with his touches last season as he was in his rookie year, yet still ended up as the RB8.
What Will Change in 2021?
Kenyan Drake and a downgraded offensive line.
The Las Vegas Raiders signed Kenyan Drake to a 2-year, $11 million contract this offseason, which has raised a lot of questions about Josh Jacobs’ role in the Raiders offense moving forward. Personally, I think Kenyan Drake takes more carries away from Jacobs this season than Las Vegas’ backup RB Devontae Booker did last season. Booker is now a member of the New York Giants, but in 2020, it was pretty much a 75-25 split in terms of carries between Jacobs and him. With Booker effectively replaced by Drake, a more effective rusher and passer, I could see a 60-40 split taking place, with Drake getting most of the passing work. Jacobs will likely see a workload similar to his rookie season next year.
On top of all that, the Las Vegas Raiders got rid of most of their top offensive linemen for salary cap reasons. C Rodney Hudson, OG Gabe Jackson and OT Trent Brown were all either cut or released this offseason. Sure, you could always draft offensive linemen, but these guys were all starters and good ones at that. The Raiders did sign C Nick Martin to replace Rodney Hudson, but that’s a clear downgrade at the position. Jacobs was already inefficient behind a competent offensive line last season, so things aren’t looking good for the workhorse RB in 2021.
As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, Jacobs is their 19th-ranked RB and 37th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted in the 3rd round of 12 team mock drafts. In my opinion, the 3rd round is a little too high for Jacobs. There are RBs going in round 4 who I like more than him, so if he falls to the 4th, he’ll have good value there. Jacobs is currently going around the same time as other RBs, such as Miles Sanders (PHI), Chris Carson (SEA), Antonio Gibson (WAS) and JK Dobbins (BAL). I prefer all of those RBs and, although he's currently being drafted in the 4th round, I even like Melvin Gordon III (DEN) more than Jacobs.
Over a full 17 game season, I project Josh Jacobs to have 244 rushing attempts for 975 yards and 9 TDs. Through the air, Jacobs will haul in 23 of his 32 targets for 170 yards and 1 TD. In total, that’s 267 touches for 1145 total yards and 10 total TDs, averaging 4.3 yards per touch. Those numbers would’ve made Josh Jacobs the RB15 in half PPR leagues and the RB18 in full PPR leagues. I view Jacobs as a solid RB2 in 2021, but if you’re intent on drafting him as your RB1, your team may be in a lot of trouble.