2020 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Preview: Last year's rookies have made WR deeper than ever

Matt Harmon
·8 min read

Hi, I’m Matt Harmon and I’m a wide receiver enthusiast.

I spend altogether too much time thinking about wide receivers, studying wide receivers, talking to people in my life about wide receivers who absolutely do not care about things like, “Why playing flanker makes life easier on a guy than lining up at X-receiver.”

I could sit here and write you thousands of words about my takeaways on the position after over six years of charting receivers but I’m confident most of you who clicked don’t care.

So, instead, I’ll give you a quick overview of how I’m approaching the position in fantasy football in 2020.

Current Wide Receiver Landscape

The wide receiver position is both as stacked at the top as ever and flush with quality depth. That makes attacking the position a fun quandary for drafters in 2020.

The consensus top-10 at receiver mostly all have secure target shares and tantalizing upside. But you can go deep down the board, sometimes even into the Round 8-10 range and find receivers with reasonable paths to 100-plus targets and/or breakout potential.

An unexpected influx of front-line talent from the 2018 and 2019 NFL Draft wide receiver classes breathed new life into the depth of this position. That’s not even to speak of any potential Year 1 contribution from the much-hyped 2020 rookies.

The 2019 season saw NFL teams throw the ball 34.9 times per game, the fourth-highest mark of any year in league history. Additionally, the league-average completion percentage (63.9 percent) checked in at second-highest representation, passing touchdowns per game (1.6) the second-highest, and adjusted yards per attempt (7.1) the third-highest. Most importantly, the scoring rate per drive (36 percent) sung the second-highest note in league history. The 2018 campaign still holds the record at 36.5 percent.

All that to say, teams are throwing the ball more than ever, they’re doing it more efficiently than ever, and scoring more points through the air than they ever have before.

The current reality of the NFL doesn’t just make the top-of-the-line wide receivers more appealing, it boosts the outlook for players down the rung. In reality, everyone with a “WR” next to their name wins. The onus falls on fantasy managers to then decide at which intersection of their fake drafts they’d like to start selecting said winners.

Big-Picture Strategy

The depth of the position — and we really can’t emphasize enough that it is that deep — has driven the consensus advice for approaching wide receiver in 2020. The mainstream approach for drafts will be to stack up running backs early and start picking off values at wide receiver as the selection process rolls along.

No one should try to talk you out of that.

Raw point totals should not be the guiding light by which you make your fantasy football decisions, but in this instance, it can help illustrate a point:

WR point total finishes the last decade (Yahoo Standard scoring)
WR point total finishes the last decade (Yahoo Standard scoring)

WR30 scoring turned in one of its best years since 2010. It’s been trending up since it fell off after the major receiver boom of 2015. The WR40 spot was noticeably higher than the two years prior and the WR50 player was in line with expectations. Meanwhile, you got a beefy performance from Michael Thomas at WR1 (300.1 points) but WR5 and WR10 scoring turned in some of the lowest figures of the last decade.

All just a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet that doesn’t tell us anything? A big pile of randomness? Maybe.

But I do think it illustrates a couple of points that could (a keyword in the lead up to such an unprecedented season) potentially lead us to actionable advice heading into 2020.

  1. NFL passing offenses are more spread out than ever. We know this to be true. Wide receivers further down the depth chart are garnering higher target shares that make them more likely to be relevant in fantasy football, if not throughout the whole season, certainly on a week-by-week basis.

  2. It’s still possible to gain an edge at wide receiver by identifying the WR1 overall. Spotlighting the player to have a “Michael Thomas 2019-like” season can bring a big points advantage to your team over the rest of the field. My pick for that player in 2020 is Davante Adams. But even if it isn’t Adams, you’re going to have to take one of the early guys in order to get that player.

Long story short, yes, you should be taking advantage of the depth at the position. Both because of the new players in the league boosting the quality of the crop overall and the spread-out nature of NFL passing games. Doing so will definitely allow you to stock up at positions that drop off a cliff much faster, like running back or maybe even an elite tight end like George Kittle or Travis Kelce. However, don’t hesitate to take a frontline wideout early in the draft if you feel you identify good value.

As always, don’t be dogmatic. Be flexible.

Fantasy Top-12

2020's Top 12 Wide Receivers
2020's Top 12 Wide Receivers

Want more analysis on this top-12 and the rest of my rankings? Head over to my 2020 fantasy wide receivers tiers piece for more words than you could have ever asked for previewing the position.

Draft Steal(s)/Draft bust(s)

If you’ve been following me all offseason, you’ll recognize any of these names as “my guys.” You should bully your league-mates to make sure you snag receivers off this list:

Hit that tiers article for analysis on all of those players, or search Twitter. I’ve talked myself hoarse on all of them at this point. Instead, I’ll give you three names that continue to find their way onto my teams in different areas of the draft.

  • Round 5 or 6: Michael Gallup. The underrated third-year receiver led the Cowboys in both percentage of team targets (21 percent) and air yards (28 percent) in the 14 games he played in 2019. A solid separator and contested-catch threat who excels at playing the most difficult receiver role (the X) in the Cowboys offense, he’s primed to be a top-level threat in a Cowboys offense that should be among the five best in football.

  • Rounds 8 to 9: Mike Williams. New Chargers starter Tyrod Taylor led all starting quarterbacks in 2015 with 18.2 percent of his passes going 20-plus yards down the field (per PFF). Williams is the Chargers’ lone natural deep threat. He’s going too late in drafts for a proven touchdown threat with a baked-in week-winning skill set and top-20 seasonal upside if Keenan Allen were to ever get hurt.

  • Round 10 or later: James Washington. Despite wanting a front seat on the Diontae Johnson bandwagon, I find myself drafting James Washington all the time. Washington led the team in air yards last year as the vertical threat. If The Steelers offense bounces back, he’ll have monster weeks as their deep-game specialist. He goes so late. It’s wild.

Now let’s flip it around and look at players I haven’t been targeting:

  • Amari Cooper: The opportunity between Cooper and Gallup was already so close last year (as noted above) and now there are even more viable threats in the offense. It’s my belief that Cooper is an inconsistent producer in fantasy because he is an inconsistent player. That isn’t changing at this point in his career. Pass on Cooper where he’s going and look at Gallup, Dak Prescott, or one of the ancillary players to get exposure to this enthralling offense.

  • The Rams wide receivers: I just don’t have any confidence in how players will be deployed in this offense or if it’s even going to be any good. There’s always someone with a more appealing ceiling going in the range both Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods go in drafts. The idea of Woods’ target total is appealing but players like Sterling Shepard, Tyler Boyd, and Jamison Crowder go much later, are deployed similarly, and could find themselves with a target share like Woods’ if chaos ever hit their offenses. Chaos is the one consistent theme in the NFL.

One-Sentence Gameplan

Lean into the quality of the 2019 wide receiver draft class.

Whether you want to take the plunge on A.J. Brown or DK Metcalf in the early rounds, be aggressive to get Terry McLaurin on your squad, hop aboard the Marquise Brown hype train or buy into your favorite sleeper like Diontae Johnson, make the rookies of last year a key part of your draft day manifesto. They are the reason the position is suddenly so deep and why you can acquire ultra-talented players with reasonable paths to 100 targets after Round 4. I’m obsessed with this crop of players.

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