Fantasy Football Breakouts and Busts | Tee Higgins vs. James Robinson

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 potential top 15 WR in Cincy and a RB who should take a step back in Duval County.

_________________________________________________________________________


BREAKOUT - Tee Higgins (WR - CIN)


2020 Season Overview


(stats from ESPN.com)


All things considered, Tee Higgins had a very impressive rookie season. After not recording a catch in Week 1 and only being on the field for 22% of the snaps, the 2020 2nd-round pick tore it up and ended the year with 67 receptions on 108 targets for 908 yards and 6 TDs. Higgins pulled his hamstring and missed almost all of Week 17, so these stats were really from just 14 total games. I have no doubt he would have reached 1000 yards if he was a part of the offense for all 16 games.


As expected, Higgins’ production took a considerable dip once Joe Burrow tore his ACL and MCL and was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve, but the fact that he was just 92 yards short of 1000 yards while catching passes from three different QBs is incredible. Not counting weeks 1 and 17, Higgins saw at least five targets in every single game. In 9 of those 14 games, he saw 8 or more targets. It’s clear that he’s the main guy in the Bengals’ passing offense or at least the 1A with Tyler Boyd serving as the 1B. Higgins finished the 2020 season as the WR30 in half PPR scoring.


What Went Wrong In 2020?


Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury.


If it wasn’t for Joe Burrow’s injury, I believe everyone would be going crazy over Tee Higgins in the 2021 fantasy season. As you can see, I’m bullish on Higgins this season and I’ll tell you why.


If you compare Higgins’ stats between weeks 2 and 11 (with Burrow) to his stats between weeks 12 and 16 (without Burrow), you’ll notice a big difference. With Burrow as the starting QB, Higgins caught 43 of his 71 targets for 629 yards and 4 TDs. Over the course of a full 16 game season, that would average out to 76 receptions on 126 targets for 1118 yards and 7 TDs. If you’re not already blown away by those projected numbers, it would’ve made Higgins the WR15 in half PPR scoring last season and I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t have gotten there if Burrow played a full season.


Taking a look at his stats without Burrow, Higgins caught 24 of his 36 targets for 279 yards and 2 TDs. Over the course of a full 16 game season, that would average out to 77 receptions on 115 targets for 893 yards and 6 TDs. Those reception and target numbers are great, but the rest of his numbers are worse or equal to those he put up in just 14 games last season.


As you can see, Higgins was on pace for an incredible rookie season with Burrow at the helm, but the 1st overall pick’s injury derailed the entire Bengals offense.


What Will Change in 2021?


Joe Burrow will be back.


The rookie QB was electric when on the field last season and, according to the man himself, he’s expected to be ready by the start of the 2021 season. This is huge news because it’s always unfortunate when a player suffers a serious knee injury so late in the year since it might force them to miss the start of the next season. But assuming Burrow will actually be back, it’s great news for all Bengals pass catchers, especially Tee Higgins.


Like I said earlier, Higgins is the guy in the Bengals passing offense or, at worst, the 1A to Boyd’s 1B. He was on pace for a whopping 126 targets with Burrow as the team’s starting QB, which puts him up there with WRs like DK Metcalf, Robert Wood and Amari Cooper. That’s enough targets to make someone a WR1 in fantasy and Higgins should be able to reach those target totals this season, especially considering AJ Green and John Ross are no longer a part of the team’s WR corps. Plus, Burrow is likely to improve his game in 2021 since he’s got a whole 10 games of NFL experience under his belt now. Like all rookies last year, both Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins walked into the NFL regular season with 0 in-game reps, but the two quickly formed a strong rapport and are clearly the future of the Bengals’ offense.


The Bengals called the 11th most passing plays last season and Higgins had the 10th most deep targets in the league last season. I don’t expect the Bengals to take a big step forward next year, so these stats are completely sustainable. Burrow may not have the strongest arm, but he throws an accurate deep ball to Higgins and he targets the WR often, so big plays are inevitable in this offense. Even if the Bengals improve their offensive line and run the ball more this season, I still expect Higgins to be a high volume WR in 2021.


Verdict


As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, Tee Higgins is their 31st-ranked WR and 74th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted in the 6th round of 12 team mock drafts. I would draft Higgins as early as Round 5 since he has the potential to be a low-end WR1 at best and a high-end WR2 at worst, so Round 6 is very good value. Higgins is going around the same time as other WRs such as CeeDee Lamb (DAL), Brandon Aiyuk (SF), Will Fuller (HOU) and his teammate Tyler Boyd (CIN). I think CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk are good options in this range as well, but I personally prefer Tee Higgins over them.


With Joe Burrow back as the Bengals’ starting QB, I expect Tee Higgins to have an exceptional season. I’m projecting the second year WR to catch 80 of 120 targets for 1200 yards and 8 TDs in 2021, making him a low-end WR1. Higgins is well worth drafting at his current ADP.


BUST - James Robinson (RB - JAX)


2020 Season Overview


(stats from ESPN.com)


James Robinson’s rookie season was one for the ages. Just like in the 2020 NFL draft, he likely went undrafted in fantasy drafts last year, meaning you struck gold if you picked him up before Week 1. As the unquestioned RB1 for the Jacksonville Jaguars all season long, Robinson put up some ridiculous numbers and was the biggest steal in all of fantasy. He turned 240 carries into 1070 yards and 7 TDs, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Through the air, he caught 49 of his 60 targets for 344 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 7 yards per reception. Overall, that’s 289 touches for 1414 yards and 10 TDs, averaging 4.9 yards per touch.


Robinson had the second most rushing yards in a season for an undrafted rookie in NFL history and had the most yards ever by an undrafted rookie through the first 14 games of a season. He was, without a doubt, one of the best stories of the season and finished the year as the RB7 in half PPR scoring and the RB5 in fantasy points per game since he missed the final two games due to injury.


What Went Right in 2020?


Opportunities.


The 2020 season was just the perfect storm for James Robinson. Everything that could’ve happened to increase his workload happened. Chris Thompson only appeared in six games as he battled injuries all season long. Ryquell Armstead missed the entire season due to COVID-19 complications. Dare Ogunbowale and Devine Ozigbo were never real threats to James Robinson’s starting job. This all led to Robinson having the highest opportunity share out of all the RBs in the NFL.



(stats from playerprofiler.com)


Opportunity share is the percentage of total team running back carries plus targets, so essentially the percentage of work a RB gets compared to the other RBs on the roster. Robinson got a whopping 85.2% of the work, which is just insane. On top of that, he had the 6th most carries in the NFL as well as the 11th most targets and 9th most receptions of all RBs.


When you’re getting all of your team’s carries and targets, you’re likely going to produce for fantasy purposes, especially if you’re as talented as James Robinson. He took full advantage of his opportunities and ended the year with the 5th most rushing yards in the NFL, the 9th most receptions and the 10th most TDs. If you’re putting up numbers on the ground and catching a lot of passes, that’s all you need to have a good fantasy season in full and half PPR leagues.


Over a full 16 game season, Robinson would’ve totaled 274 carries for 1223 rushing yards and 8 TDs. Through the air, he would’ve caught 56 of his 69 targets from 393 yards and 3 TDs. In total, that’s 1616 yards and 11 TDs. Those stats are incredible, but they’re going to be hard to sustain in 2021.


What Will Change In 2021?


Competition.


The Jaguars are making some additions to their RB group heading into the 2021 season. Yes, Robinson is an incredible RB, but as a franchise, you can’t give someone a heavy workload like this week in and week out without wearing them down. You also need to protect yourself in case your starter gets injured and having a capable backup would do just that.


Chris Thompson and Dare Ogunbowale are free agents in 2021, meaning James Robinson, Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo were the only RBs on the team with a contract for next season. Now, we know that they will also be adding Carlos Hyde to the bunch as he has reportedly signed a 2-year, $4.5 million contract with the Jags.


The addition of Hyde should take some of the load off Robinson and most likely lower both his targets and his carries since he won’t be on the field as much. I could see Robinson’s targets lowering to around 45 and I believe he’ll also have more competition on early downs with Hyde in the mix, which could lower his carries to around 200.


I don’t expect Robinson to suddenly be the team’s RB2 or anything like that, I just think the added competition will eat into his workload and lower his opportunities next year. In 2021, he’ll have to do more with less to match the stats he put up last season.


Verdict


As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, James Robinson is their 19st-ranked RB and 38th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted in the 3rd round of 12 team mock drafts. Robinson is going around the same time as RBs like JK Dobbins (BAL), Miles Sanders (PHI), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC), Antonio Gibson (WAS), Cam Akers (LAR) and David Montgomery (CHI). I would likely take Dobbins, Sanders, CEH, Gibson and Akers over James Robinson at his current ADP since I view those guys as players with RB1 potential and Robinson as more of an RB2.


I don’t trust Robinson’s workload heading in the 2021 season and think he’s going to see less opportunity and less productivity this year. Assuming he plays all 16 games, I’m projecting Robinson to have 200 carries for 840 yards and 6 TDs on the ground, adding 36 receptions on 45 targets for 270 yards and 2 TDs. In total, that’s 236 touches for 1110 yards and 8 TDs. An RB2 finish wouldn’t be bad at all, but just note that you’re drafting Robinson at his ceiling in round 3, not his floor. There are better options out there.