Quick Takes: Most Impactful COVID-19 Opt-outs

Malcolm McMillan (@McLateralFF)
The Lateral Writer

2020, am I right?

Obviously, this has been a trying year even in the best of circumstances, yet the hope is always to have an outlet for escapism. For a lot of people, including many readers of The Lateral, that outlet is fantasy football.

Unfortunately, our fantasy world is connected to the real world through the players we ride or die by year in and year out, and this year that means players opting out due to COVID-19 will have an impact on how to construct your fantasy roster. While most players that opted-out were not the most impactful from a fantasy perspective, there were 5 notable players (in some cases groups of players) that could make a difference by opting out of the 2020 NFL season.

Top-5 Most Impactful Opt-outs for the 2020 Season

1. Damien Williams, RB Kansas City Chiefs

Damien Williams was already on the decline from a fantasy perspective. Last year despite seemingly being given the reigns, he failed to make a significant impact and was averaging around 10 PPG. It probably did not help that he struggled to stay on the field, and Kansas City responded by drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the last pick of Round 1 in the 2020 NFL Draft.

So why is Damien Williams so impactful an omission for the 2020 season? Two major reasons. First, he still held some standalone value for a fair amount of people. With an ADP of 70th overall, Williams would have been considered to have standalone FLEX value, with potential handcuff value if the Notorious C.E.H. were to go down with an injury. Any drafts that already occurred would now have some fantasy managers with a wasted 6th/7th round pick (not meaningless), and he was potentially a keeper or dynasty holdover for certain people.

The biggest impact that Damien Williams opting out will have, however, is that it cemented Clyde Edwards-Helaire as a first-round pick, particularly in PPR leagues. Based on data from Fantasy Football Calculator, Clyde Edwards-Helaire's ADP has risen nearly an entire round in PPR and half-PPR since July 29th when Damien Williams opted out. That shows a pretty clear correlation that people will be now valuing CEH significantly higher now that Williams is not crowding the Kansas City backfield, meaning he will now fetch a premium price to acquire.

2. Patrick Chung & Dont'a Hightower

The New England Patriots DST was one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season unless you were me, who drafted them in multiple leagues.

Ok, humble-brag aside, they really were a surprise to everyone, including opposing offenses. They scored 63 more points (or approximately 1 Cincinnati Bengals) than the next closest DST (Pittsburgh Steelers), which was good for more than 4 PPG better than anyone else. So the loss of two starters should be a major hit for what was already a defense primed for regression. Despite Chung providing essentially no points directly, he still started 12 games, and Hightower was good for 5.5 sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown during his 15 starts. Those stats, and those starts, are going to tough to fill.

Which is why the ADP of 5th among DSTs is concerning, and likely to fall. Top DSTs tend to regress (the 2018 Bears that finished #1 were #20 in 2019), and upon closer examination, NE's dominance was largely built on performances in the first half of the season. In weeks 1-8 they scored 181 points; in weeks 9-17 they only scored only 55 points and were on average not a starting DST. Combine that with two starters down, and it is clear why Patrick Chung & Dont'a Hightower opting out is such a big deal for the 2020 season.

3. Allen Hurns & Albert Wilson

Neither Allen Hurns nor Albert Wilson made a major impact in 2019. Allen Hurns finished the season with 6.11 PPG, and Albert Wilson was not much better with 6.47 PPG, and that is only if playing PPR. So why did they make the cut?

Preston Williams.

Preston Williams in only 8 games last year scored more than either Allen Hurns or Albert Wilson, and average a very respectively FLEX-worthy 11.6 PPG in PPR format. All he would need to do to maintain that FLEX viability would be an additional 92-93 points. Almost the same amounts just vacated by either Allen Hurns (97.76 PPR points over 16 games using the 6.11 PPG average) or Albert Wilson (103.52 PPR points over 16 games using the 6.47 PPG average). Combine that with the fact that opposing defenses will certainly be focusing their attention on stud WR1 contender DeVante Parker (11th in PPR format in 2019), and Preston Williams seems primed to outperform his current ADP of WR54, even if Chad Ochocinco makes a surprise return.

4. Geronimo Allison

2019 definitely felt like a year to forget for Geronimo Allison. Coming into the season he was considered a solid bet for the #2 WR in the Green Bay offense, with an ADP in the 8th round. Unfortunately, that did not exactly happen, with Allison putting up a nearly identical stat line in 2019 as 2018, despite playing 3 times as many games. Ultimately he struggled his way to being the 4th best WR on the team behind Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdez-Scantling.

So why would such a failure who ultimately found his way switching teams and hoping for a fresh start make the list? First, Detroit had the 10th best passing offense in the NFL last year despite Matthew Stafford missing significant time under center. All three WRs finished with 140+ PPR points, and all three were at least in the FLEX or WR starter conversation every single week. It was not unreasonable to think a 4th WR could be in the FLEX conversation, or that Allison could overtake the aging but sturdy Danny Amendola with Stafford fully healthy.

Now that he has opted out though, there is no reason to believe that Detroit, who essentially went with three WRs all last year, will not stick to three WRs again. That means all three of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola should be on everyone's radar, if not drafted in all leagues (WR is deep enough that Amendola going undrafted is reasonable despite the FLEX potential). Golladay is going at ADP WR8, and given he finished at WR9 in PPR last year, that is unlikely to change significantly. 

Marvin Jones, however, is an entirely different story. While not the youngest at 30 years old, he still finished as WR28 last year, largely as a consequence of missing 3 games (his PPG in PPR was 14.9; Kenny Golladay was 15.5 PPG in PPR). He will also have the 7th easiest schedule of any receiver corps in the NFL. Yet despite having the talent and opportunity to be a weekly starter, he is going at WR38 on average across all formats. If the Lions do not replace Geronimo Allison, Marvin Jones could be a safe steal for a starting WR in the middle of a draft.

5. Devin Funchess

Much like with Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson, and Geronimo Allison, this is very much a case of an opt-out helping the value of another WR. Basically, the differences came down to talent and opportunity, and Preston Williams is simply a more talented WR than Allen Lazard. While Lazard may be a favorite of Aaron Rodgers, he also had nearly the same stat line as Preston Williams in twice as many games. Combine that with Miami finishing #7 in passing attempts last year, and Green Bay finishing #16, it was easy to make the Miami duo dropping out more impactful. Same for Marvin Jones; he simply will not be slept on as much as Preston Williams, so the value is not quite as strong, which is why he came in at #4, but he is still significantly more valuable than Allen Lazard's ceiling is likely to be.

Still, Lazard does seem primed to have a bigger year in 2020, if for no other reason than a lack of competition. As any Packers fan will tell you (even if you did not ask), they drafted exactly zero WRs to help out Aaron Rodgers in a famously deep WR draft class. Geronimo Allison went elsewhere in the NFC North, joining the Detroit Lions (more on that later), and now with Funchess out, Lazard seems primed to repeat as the Packer's leading receiver not named Davante Adams

The 55 targets vacated by Geronimo Allison have to go somewhere, and now they will no longer be going to Devin Funchess. This makes him our final impact opt-out for the 2020 NFL season.

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