Studs and Duds 2020 – Volume 6 – Justin Jefferson and Darnell Mooney

by Chase Vernon · Studs and Duds

We all have them. The players we attach ourselves to over the course of the pre-draft process. The ones we try our damnedest to draft or acquire in fantasy football. For better or worse, these are the players we end up attaching our reputations to as fantasy players and/or analysts. This series will focus on both sides of that particular coin.

In this new Underworld venture called Studs and Duds, we will talk about one player we planted our proverbial flag on that was a hit and one that was a bust. Along the way, we’ll be using PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats, metrics and analytics to analyze the process, figure out how and why these players hit/busted, and decide whether we want to target/fade said players next season.


Volume 6 – Chase Vernon

Stud: Justin Jefferson

Although my prediction of 91 receptions fell three short, Justin Jefferson still helped us win leagues in a slightly different way than I imagined. It seems like the low-hanging fruit, but the process in how I came to pick Jefferson as my stud is essential to discuss. 

How Many Leagues Did You Have Him In?

Jefferson was ranked as my rookie WR2. In most drafts, he was going in the late first round, firmly behind CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy. A combination of Henry Ruggs, Jalen Reagor, and Tee Higgins would go ahead of him in many cases as well. I was able to acquire him in 15 out of 19 dynasty startups and rookie drafts, while trading for him in three of four orphans. As for redraft, I was able to have him in four of five leagues.

When Did You Know He Was One of Your Guys?

In 2020, Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was promoted from offensive advisor to offensive coordinator in place of Kevin Stefanski. It’s no surprise Stefanski’s run-first play-calling had the team only averaging 30.9 (No. 31) Team Pass Plays Per Game. However, Kubiak only had one year of calling plays where his teams attempted fewer, with six top 10 finishes in 11 seasons. I didn’t expect them to start airing it out, but even if they were to see an additional four passing attempts per game due to playcalling, Jefferson would be in a great position with Stefon Diggs heading to Buffalo. So how do 93 vacated targets along with an assumed 20-percent Target Share on an additional 64 targets (12.8 targets) equate to 91 receptions?

The Vikings offense wasn’t the only thing shifting. In 2019, Minnesota’s defense held opponents to the sixth-fewest amount of points per game. In the offseason, they lost seven players on defense, six of them being starters. They did spend a large portion of their draft capital on the defensive side, but their defense was going to struggle, forcing the offense to throw even more. Jefferson would see around 120 targets if this defense was bad enough to encourage four more additional throws per game to keep up with the opposition. Given Kirk Cousins76.0-percent (No. 5 among qualified quarterbacks) True Completion Percentage from 2019, 120 targets would be 91 receptions — a number which would have tied him for third all-time amongst rookies.

Why Did You Like Him So Much?

Coming out of college, Jefferson was thought to be the second option on a record-setting offense in which he might not be a true alpha receiver. I never understood the inability to assume an alpha role. He has a 19.6 (75th-percentile) Breakout Age and maintained at least a 21-percent Target Share in two consecutive years. Meanwhile, he shared the field with two blue chip prospects, including the first receiver picked in 2021, the only running back drafted in the first round of 2020, and two tight ends who are in the NFL today. 

Justin Jefferson Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

After Jefferson crushed the Combine with a 104.9 (82nd-percentile) Speed Score and 126.8 (80th-percentile) Burst Score, he was a lock. Landing with Minnesota was a dream scenario. The aging Adam Thielen has struggled to stay on the field, so it was only a matter of time before Jefferson became the alpha in an offense which has a history of maximizing the potential of wide receivers with his skill sets.

What Did You Learn?

We have to pay attention to more than just one narrative. 2020 was a perfect storm for Jefferson. Overall talent, a position of need, an aging veteran teammate, a shifting offensive scheme, and a skeleton defense all made it possible for him to succeed. 

Without talent, vacated targets mean nothing outside of back-end flex player. Last year we saw Kenny Golladay go down, and there was no one player to take that spot. Opportunity isn’t always a recipe for success — talent matters at the wide receiver position.

Aging veterans do benefit the up-and-coming studs. They still draw coverage from shadow corners while allowing the younger players to see easier matchups. Two of the top breakout receivers in D.K. Metcalf and Calvin Ridley had veteran teammates who were unable to consistently stay on the field.

Scheme and play-calling matter. We saw Stefon Diggs reach his potential under Brian Daboll after leaving Stefanski. Meanwhile, Stefanski goes to the Browns, where Jarvis Landry had his worst season since joining the league in 2014. Kubiak has had at least one 1,000-yard receiver in all but two seasons while calling the plays. The only two which didn’t had both his starting quarterback and wide receiver playing ten games or less.    

Defenses might not tell the whole story, but they still shouldn’t be ignored. Don’t aim for players who will see garbage time; losing teams are typically a sign of dysfunction. However, keep an eye on why a team’s defense could struggle. In the 2020 offseason Minnesota was forced to move on from the majority of their free agents. They were up against the salary cap and let seven defensive players walk. In 2019, Minnesota ranked No. 18 in points scored throughout the second half. In 2020, they were No. 1. The result of their defense unable to stop teams was Kirk Cousins throwing for over 500 yards and 15 touchdowns more in the second half than he did in the first on only 44 more attempts. Jefferson was the prime beneficiary, scoring 180.8 fantasy points in the second half compared to only 89.4 in the first.

Where Would You Be Comfortable Drafting Him in 2021?

Davante Adams melted faces last season and should remain as the top wide receiver in 2020. However, Justin Jefferson isn’t far behind. His situation won’t change much, outside of garnering more attention as a sophomore. The question is, do you take him over players like Tyreek Hill or Chris Godwin, who have proven track records? With him only being 22 and finishing as WR6, he would be my second overall receiver selected.   

Dud: Darnell Mooney

Hitting on a late-round receiver is rarely a success. However, with Darnell Mooney, his situation was too good to be ignored. 

How Many Leagues Did You Have Him In?

I had Mooney in 24 of 28 leagues, but dropped him in most of my redraft leagues and a few of my shallow dynasty ones.

When Did You Know He Was One of Your Guys?

Mooney became one of my guys as soon as I realized Mitchell Trubisky might not have been the problem as much as people were led to believe. Let me clarify: I don’t think Trubisky was good; however, he had given his receivers more opportunities than people realized. 

Darnell Mooney Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Darnell Mooney Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

In 2019, he was tied for No. 11 among players who attempted at least 400 passes with 66 Deep Ball Attempts and a 34.8-percent Deep Ball Completion Percentage. It’s a challenging accomplishment considering his offensive line ranked No. 32 in Protection Rate, which insinuates he didn’t have much time to throw. His receivers didn’t help much, dropping the 13th-most passes. The Bears were the only team who didn’t have a pass-catcher top 13 yards per reception, while finishing No. 31 in explosive pass play rate.  

The issue wasn’t just with tracking the deep ball, however. They failed to get yards after the catch. Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson ranked No. 100 and No. 148 out of 155 in yards after the catch per reception. They needed a playmaker and Mooney could be just that.

Why Did You Like Him So Much?

The opportunity was undeniable and the talent was there. Tulane’s big-play receiver averaged 16.7 yards per reception throughout his college career on his way to 2,572 yards and 19 touchdowns. The more impressive stat was that 16 of his 19 touchdowns were from over 20 yards out; nine were from over 40 yards out. His stats led to a 36.5-percent (71st-percentile) College Dominator Rating, finishing each season with no less than a 21-perent Target Share and earning an 18.9 (92nd-percentile) Breakout Age

With Taylor Gabriel leaving town, there was a clear need and the talent was there. Considering Mooney only had to beat out a washed-up Ted Ginn, a failed experiment in Riley Ridley, and seventh-round loose cannon Javon Wims, Chicago’s third receiver job was his to lose. 

What Did You Learn?

Don’t underestimate a coach’s pride. Mooney wasn’t the only offseason addition the Bears made last year. They acquired quarterback Nick Foles from the Jaguars for a fourth-round pick. The entire time I considered Foles just a backup, and when Mitchell Trubisky won the job, I felt even more confident. However, by halftime of Week 3, Foles had taken over. 

With both Trubisky and Foles playing the majority of snaps in eight games apiece, Mooney hit double-digit points in four of Trubisky’s games, while only hitting double digits in Foles’ games once. Meanwhile, Foles was attempting 1.4 more Deep Passes per game; they were just wildly inaccurate. 

While targeting Mooney, Trubisky was 35 of 50 for 366 yards with three touchdowns and one interception; Foles was 26 of 49 for 265 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Stats Targeting Darnell Mooney

Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky Stats Targeting Darnell Mooney

The primary issue was the pressure. Foles was unable to escape the rush; seeing 74 pressures and only scrambling three times. In addition, he had a 32.8-percent (No. 31) Pressured Completion Percentage. Only Ben Roethlisberger had less time to throw. He was a sitting target and defenses knew it. Foles being under constant duress made getting the ball to their deep threat in Mooney much more difficult. 

Blitzing Trubisky was much more difficult since he was able to escape the pressure. He was only blitzed on 97 occasions – compared to 112 for Foles  – and scrambled on 17 while averaging 9.8 yards per scramble. Trubisky was hurting defenses with his legs, so teams stopped bringing pressure. This allowed Mooney to see more Deep Ball opportunities. 

What I learned from this was coaching does matter. The playcalling could have been more friendly towards Foles, but Trubisky should have started the entire season. The Bears were 5-3 with Trubisky and 2-5 with Foles, excluding Week 3 when they both played a half. The best offensive performance under Foles was 23 points, while the Bears only scored less than 25 twice with Trubisky. After trading a fourth-round pick for Foles, restructuring his contract to guarantee more money, then declining Trubisky’s fifth-year option, Foles was going to see the field at some point. The biggest lesson was: pay attention to the signs which surround a situation. 

Where Would You Be Comfortable Drafting Him in 2021?

I don’t know if there is a place I feel comfortable picking him, per se. It’s more so willing to take a shot. Andy Dalton could prove to be a serviceable placeholder while Justin Fields adapts to the pro game. He is currently being drafted at pick No. 129.8 per Underdog Fantasy ADP. He’s almost exclusively surrounded by players who have depreciating values. There are rumors tied to Anthony Miller possibly being traded which would make Mooney the de facto second option. The possibility of him getting a stud at quarterback has me enticed to take a flyer on him before the 12th round. His long-term upside is far greater than players like Jarvis Landry and Cole Beasley. If Mooney makes it to round 10, the trigger is getting pulled.