There Is No Next Last Year


There Is No Next Last Year
By: Doug Ludemann

There Is No Next Last Year

By: Doug Ludemann

August 23, 2021

Image Credit: New York Times (here)

Howdy Ho, there neighbor! Just thought I’d pop in to remind you that it is the year 2021 and this year is not last year. Also, last year is last year, and last year isn’t this year. And no, I’m not trying to ignore the fact that for almost all intents and purposes, this kind of logical regression is simply superfluous, bordering even on gratuitous. But for some reason when it comes to sports, this is the kind of truism that bears pointing out, perhaps even repeating: There will not be another last year. Not this year, not next year, nor the year after. In fact, it is most probable that last year is the last last year that will ever happen again, as hard as that may be for some to believe.

In the same sense, there have been a number of fantasy performances that most likely will not be repeated in 2021.

The Next James Robinson

In all likelihood, there will not be a “2021’s James Robinson", or an undrafted free-agent running back who not only maintains fantasy-relevant production for much of the season, but is truely capable of truly elite league-winning production. Sure, you may see some UDFA RBs succeed in their rookie seasons. I liked Javian Hawkins (ATL), Pooka Williams (CIN), Rakeem Boyd (DET), and Trey Ragas (LV) in the lead-up to the NFL draft, but the fact that they ended up on an NFL team is only the first step. They now need to make the final 53-man roster and battle their way up the depth chart, ahead of veterans and rookies with the sunk cost of draft capital investments, in order to get their shot on the field. Notably, Robinson’s breakout season was on the heels of a surprise cut of veteran RB Leonard Fournette as well as Ryquell Armstead opting-out due to concerns about the COVID-19 virus, circumstances unlikely to repeat themselves ahead of most UDFAs.

Savvy dynasty managers aren’t busy searching for the next outlier of outliers. They’re still betting on players with low acquisition costs and with the potential for success in 2021 or beyond. Players like Kylin Hill who might as well be an UDFA considering he was drafted in the 7th round, yet he has all the tools of being the 1A in Green Bay’s backfield potentially as soon as 2022 or '23. Another name that bears mentioning is former track star Chuba Hubbard, who stands a chance to attain RB2 in the Carolina backfield, potentially even in the first-half of the season. He even popped off a nice 59-yard run in the first week of the pre-season.

Justin Jefferson vs Ja’Marr Chase

Look, Justin Jefferson missed practice in the pre-season 2020 because of his reserve/COVID-19 list designation. The pandemic had even more of an impact on the season as OTA’s had been canceled and minicamps delayed in 2020, and there were no preseason games to start the year. So yeah, the veteran started ahead of the young rookie wide receiver who missed part of camp.

This is not the same as showing some rust in your first preseason game.

This isn’t to say that I’m fading Ja’Marr Chase because of some rust…nor am I saying that you should just ignore what you’re seeing. I’m saying that:

  1. Other than both players being from LSU and also being rookies, and also receiving negative twitter attention prior to the start of the season, their situations don’t really mirror each other all that closely.
  2. Why didn’t we see Chase’s rustiness as probable if not likely?

During the mock-draft section of the NFL offseason, we were reminded time and time again that NFL GM’s were fading guys who’d opted out last season, even those with legitimate COVID concerns. The issue was that after such a long break, they might not be ready to start against NFL caliber talent. There were concerns about potential rustiness, questions about conditioning, and of course, the inevitable character concerns.

Chances are, regardless of whether or not Ja’Marr Chase succeeds in the NFL, his performance this pre-season will have little impact on that outcome. That doesn’t mean you want to write off recent reports of rustiness as irrelevant as some are trying to do by pointing to Jefferson’s negative camp reports in 2020 pre-season, as his performance thus far may be more indicative of what we can expect while Chase works to get himself back into the player that earned him near-unanimous blue-chip designations as a WR prospect. The problem, is that his acquisition cost implies a Justin Jefferson-style record-breaking rookie breakout. Given that outlier-level record-breaking performances are a rare occurrence, as well as the reality that Chase’s situation is nowhere near similar to that of Jefferson’s (outside Adam Thielen the Vikings had little in the way of receiver talent in 2020 and Kirk Cousins was enjoying a career year, ending the year as the 11th overall quarterback in fantasy, rather than a deep promising young group of pass catchers and a sophomore quarterback recovering from a nasty knee injury); it’s really hard to envision Chase having anywhere near the season that Jefferson enjoyed in 2020.

The Next Josh Allen

The discussion du jour (that means of the day on Twitter, right?) most of the 2019 preseason was who will be the next 50-TD quarterback. Last year it was who would be the “next” Lamar Jackson, who took the league by storm in 2019 rushing for over 1200 yards. So, before you start asking yourself who the next Josh Allen will be in 2021, start asking yourself how likely it is we see another quarterback show the kind of year over year improvement that preceded Allen's breakout 2020 campaign:

  •      2018: 17.8 ppg at 3.1% TD/ATT efficiency
  •      2019: 18.6 ppg at 4.3%
  •      2020: 25.3 ppg at 6.5%

And even if we do see that kind of year over year improvement, are we going to pair that with an ascending offense, team, and front office? The only player who checks all (most) of the boxes in this scenario is Tua Tagovailoa. The team brought in veteran Will Fuller and drafted highly-touted Jaylen Waddle in the first round of the NFL draft and added tackle Liam Eichenberg in the second. It feels like the Dolphins organization is making all the right moves these days and head coach Brian Flores building a culture that’s committed to winning, even if it means evolving as a professional.

Travis Kelce = TE1

Hey, I love Travis Kelce just as much as the next guy. I mean, what’s not to love? He’s finished as the overall TE1 5 straight seasons, obviously he’s a lock to do it again right? Well that depends on whether you believe past events predict future results (which is often true) or whether or not circumstances change year to year and that it would be hard to predict another career-best performance out of a 32-year old player after he defied the odds posting career-best numbers in his age-31 season in 2020, which is more likely to be true.

It'd be different if the cost were minimal. But he acquisition cost for Kelce is equivalent to that of a starting RB in most dynasty and redraft formats. That plus Darren Waller’s 5th-best season for a TE since 2009 last year goes a full round later, perhaps more.

Sure, Kelce may be the TE 1 this year. But if he doesn’t, the likelihood of which is shockingly under-discussed, he’s a bust given his acquisition cost. I know TE is a dumpster fire after the first 2-3 players, but I’m still passing on Kelce for Waller, Kittle, Pitts, Andrews, or Hockenson. All of which are younger, all of which could also be the TE1 this season, and none of which carry a first round draft pick as the acquisition cost.

N’Keal Harry

As notorious as some Tweets about Justin Jefferson getting reps behind Bisi Johnson have become on Twitter, perhaps nobody is more notorious in dynasty fantasyland than N’Keal Harry. He went first overall in many rookie drafts just two years ago, to being underutilized. He's now demanding a trade from the Patriots this offseason. He’s never performed on the field in a way that justifies the large draft capital the Patriots invested in him, leaving Bill Belichick and fantasy managers alike, holding the proverbial bag.

The question is who will be this year’s N’Keal Harry? Will it be Ja’Marr Chase, whose draft capital never really suffered despite not playing a snap of football in 2019? Will it be fellow first-round draft selection and Heisman trophy winner DeVonta Smith, who is already causing consternation amongst those who promised his slight build (6’1” 175lbs) wouldn’t impact his longevity. Will it be Kadarius Toney, who remains one of the more controversial 1st-round selections in recent memory. Perhaps even Jaylen Waddle whose injury concerns continue to remain prevalent.

Perhaps Travis Etienne will be this year’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, or Zach Wilson will be this years Justin Herbert, there’s even a decent chance that Trey Lance will be this year’s Patrick Mahomes.

But the chances are better that all the aforementioned players will fail to recreate history and will write a little of their own. There will not be another Aaron Donald in this year’s draft, and for every Percy Harvin there is a Tavon Austin. And just like there will never be another Michael Jordan, I’m just going to pre-emptively state that Mac Jones isn’t likely to be the next Brady after the GOAT steps down (eventually), nor will there ever be.

In short, don’t get caught up in media narratives, especially during the season that bloggers are starved of ideas for new content.



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