2020 Fantasy Football WR Tiers: Terry McLaurin set to be this season's biggest breakout receiver

Matt Harmon
·16 min read

In my view, fantasy rankings are placing a linear thought process into an inherently fluid decision-making exercise. I often find there’s a heavy amount of frivolous debate on subjects like, “Why do you have Player-X at No. 12 but Player-Y at No. 15?” I don’t think it does the reader a service to try and take the numerical order as a one-to-one comparison, nor do we learn anything of use or substance about the players or how they will score us fantasy points on a week-to-week basis. For all the hype surrounding the event of the draft, winning weekly is still the name of the game in the vast majority of fantasy formats.

With that school of thought established, I do believe that using tiers by position helps offset some of the uselessness of rankings. It helps take some of the frivolity of arguing the difference of a few spots in the order. Most of the players in one tier have roughly the same value, whether they fall first in the set or last. The tiers provide more actionable information for fantasy gamers to use during drafts, specifically in terms of helping us imagine the range of outcomes for players from both a season-long and weekly standpoint. We get too caught up in where we think a player will rank at the end of the season, but tiering can help remind us that the goal soon enough will be all about constructing teams that are best set to win one week at a time.

The wide receiver position is as stocked as ever in today’s NFL. We still have long-time stalwart WR1s at the top of their game and a surprising influx of talent from the 2018 and 2019 wide receiver classes. The depth of the position is leading the majority of drafters to pluck running backs early and scoop potential breakout WRs or secure veterans in the mid-rounds.

No matter how you go about selecting wideouts this year, tier-based drafting can help you identify targets and when to take the plunge on a clump at the position to avoid cliffs that’ll leave your roster lacking.

WR Tier 1 - Elite, difference-making WR1s

1 - Davante Adams

2 - Michael Thomas

3 - Julio Jones

I’m doubling down on Davante Adams as my top fantasy wide receiver this year after having him there in 2019, as well. All the factors that led me to that prediction last year are still in place for 2020. I have Adams projected for an NFL-high 166 targets this year. With that kind of volume and a touchdown rate fluctuating back closer to his 8.6 from 2016-2018 after checking in at 3.9 in 2019, his case for the WR1 overall spot is as strong as anyone’s out there.

Despite having him at WR2 here, I can’t fault you if you take Michael Thomas ahead of Adams and any running back outside of the first tier. He has an ultra-safe projection even if he should come in under his 2019 reception total. You won’t lose your league if you take Thomas over Adams. But taking Adams over Thomas might give you the inside track to win it, just like taking Thomas over DeAndre Hopkins or Julio Jones would have done for you last year.

It feels like the fantasy football hive mind is just collectively bored with Julio Jones. However, given his place atop a wide receiver depth chart that’s barren after him and Calvin Ridley while playing for an offense that could lead the league in pass attempts ... he belongs with these two in Tier 1.

WR Tier 2 - Strong WR1 candidates

4 - Tyreek Hill

5 - Allen Robinson

6 - DeAndre Hopkins

7 - Chris Godwin

8 - Odell Beckham Jr.

9 - Mike Evans

10 - Adam Thielen

Allen Robinson is ranked at his ceiling here. It’s aggressive — however, we saw Robinson’s floor in 2019 when he finished WR11. Robinson was an elite player last year, leading all wide receivers in Reception Perception’s success rate vs. man coverage metric at 79.3 percent. We know what we’re getting if Mitchell Trubisky is the starter again. Now, if and when we do see Nick Foles, he could unlock more of Robinson’s vertical game prowess. Foles has thrown deep on 20.8 percent of his career attempts, a perfect fit to help Robinson get to his ceiling, as Rich Hribar noted.

DeAndre Hopkins going from Houston to Arizona is a massive boost for the Cardinals offense and Kyler Murray. It’s possible the initial results for Hopkins in fantasy aren’t as fun. He’s unlikely to reach the target totals (160-plus) we’re used to seeing from him in Houston. I have him at 140 over a full season.

Odell Beckham Jr. is a tough case. It’s easy to note that 2019 was an injury-ruined outlier year for Beckham as an individual player, as the thread below lays out. But knowing whether he returns to the form of a legendary talent or continues to slip due to mounting lower-body injuries is an impossible endeavor. I’m personally keeping the candle lit for a big bounce-back year in a system that will feature far more layup routes than the 2019 iteration of the Browns offense. Cleveland has the easiest schedule for pass defense efficiency (per Sharp Football Stats) after facing a murderer’s row in 2019.

Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Adam Thielen should all command the type of market share in their passing offenses to finish inside the Top-10 at the position. Thielen represents the best draft value of the trio.

WR Tier 3 - Some holes but can be your top WR

Terry McLaurin #17 of the Washington Redskins
Will Terry McLaurin make the leap to WR1 this season? (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

11 - Kenny Golladay

12 - Tyler Lockett

13 - Terry McLaurin

14 - D.J. Moore

15 - Amari Cooper

16 - A.J. Brown

17 - JuJu Smith-Schuster

18 - Calvin Ridley

You can’t project Tyler Lockett for 120-plus targets but you know he is going to be one of the most efficient wide receivers in football. Lockett has developed into a superstar pass catcher, drawing 20.9 percent of his targets inside the red zone and 25.9 percent more than 20 yards down the field. He gets the type of volume that can make your fantasy week.

Terry McLaurin is my top breakout pick at wide receiver for 2020. The Washington wideout profiled like a future elite No. 1 receiver in Reception Perception, turning in the 34th best success rate vs. man coverage score since 2014 among a myriad of other highlights as a mere rookie. Now, he’ll function as the top receiver on an offense manned by a play-caller in Scott Turner who boasted a 64.7 percent passing rate in neutral game scripts.

McLaurin drew a 22 percent target share last year and could exceed that this year. We’re looking at a 120-target floor. Even with just his rate stats in games played with Dwayne Haskins last year, at that target total you can easily get him near 80 catches and over 1,100 yards. Again, this is the minimum. He’s going to smash.

DJ Moore and Amari Cooper play in pass-catching corps that feature many other talented assets. However, they’re the odds on favorites to lead their respective wide receiver groups in targets and both teams should provide plenty of passing volume.

Calvin Ridley is the all too obvious breakout receiver this year. So much of his profile lines up perfectly to be this year’s version of Chris Godwin. He a possible 1b that will draw favorable matchups across an established stud, plays on a pass-heavy offense, and most importantly, is verifiably good at the game.

A.J. Brown’s 20.2 yards per reception, 9.5 touchdown rate, and absurd YAC numbers are bound to regress. Don’t care. The Titans would be categorically irresponsible to not give this budding alpha a target boost. He maintained a 98-target full-season pace once he started clearing 90 percent of the team snaps from Week 10 on.

WR Tier 4 - Solid WR2s

19 - Keenan Allen

20 - Courtland Sutton

21 - Cooper Kupp

22 - DK Metcalf

23 - Stefon Diggs

24 - D.J. Chark

25 - Robert Woods

26 - Michael Gallup

27 - DeVante Parker

28 - T.Y. Hilton

Every time I squint at the Chargers, I can’t help but feel the entire outfit is underrated. That starts with Allen. If Tyrod Taylor is the type of steady quarterback he was in Buffalo, all of the Chargers will be draft values. I have Allen projected for a 24 percent share of 544 team passes. He’d be a value at his ADP in that scenario.

The Seahawks kept things simple for DK Metcalf as a rookie. He took 63 percent of his snaps at left wide receiver, highest of any outside receiver sampled for Reception Perception in 2019, while 53.2% of his charted routes were either a slant or nine route. Who cares? He dominated in that assignment. He looks just like peak Dez Bryant. We know there will be low overall volume but Lockett and Metcalf should eat up a combined 50 percent target share given the middling options beyond them. A narrow target distribution and catching hyper-efficient passes from Russell Wilson make both of them buy candidates.

D.J. Chark jumped from 174 yards as a rookie to 1,008 in Year 2. He won’t sneak up on anyone this year as the clear No. 1 receiver for the Jaguars. An awesome deep threat with ability in tight spaces, he should see plenty of passing volume in Jacksonville as they struggle through another rebuild.

I see Stefon Diggs’ move to Buffalo as a near-net neutral for his fantasy value (he finished WR21 last year). The reasoning is outlined below:

Michael Gallup is the only Cowboys wide receiver I’m actively drafting at his ADP this year. The second-year wideout is a criminally underrated player as a solid separator and dominant as a contested-catch receiver. The opportunity wasn’t so different for Gallup and Amari Cooper last year, as the former actually bested the latter in both percentage of team targets (21 percent) and air yards in games played.

There’s a part of me that believes a switch to Tua Tagovailoa might not be good news for DeVante Parker. Ryan Fitzpatrick just boosts pass catchers’ volume and his ultra-aggressive style was a fit for Parker, who needs to win in tight spaces down the field.

WR Tier 5 - Volatile but tempting WR3s worth chasing

29 - Marquise Brown

30 - Will Fuller

31 - A.J. Green

32 - Jarvis Landry

33 - Diontae Johnson

I don’t want to leave a fantasy draft this August without Marquise Brown on the roster. Brown was awesome as a route-runner and touchdown threat in his rookie season despite not being close to 100 percent. Now healthy, he should draw high-value targets on an offense that will throw the ball more behind the reigning MVP at quarterback.

You should take the injury discount on Will Fuller. While Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb will help the receiver room, Fuller is the one with the longest standing chemistry with Watson. Just make sure to insulate your receiver position with some safer picks.

Diontae Johnson was my biggest riser after charting 50-plus receivers for Reception Perception. You can’t go “all-in” on the player because there are questions about the status of his quarterback’s health. However, if Roethlisberger is even 80 to 85 percent of his 2018 form, there will be enough volume for all of their top wide receivers to eat. Pittsburgh has the second-easiest schedule of opposing pass defenses (per Sharp Football Stats).

WR Tier 6 - Discount super slots

34 - Julian Edelman

35 - Tyler Boyd

36 - Sterling Shepard

37 - Jamison Crowder

All of these slot players offer viable paths to 110-plus targets and come at reasonable ADPs. Sterling Shepard remains my favorite bet in the Giants wide receiver corps. Shepard’s 22 percent target share led all Giants players from last year. He posted seven-plus targets in eight of 10 games and cleared nine in five of his seven games with Daniel Jones.

WR Tier 7 - Priority WR4s

38 - Mike Williams

39 - Brandin Cooks

40 - John Brown

41- Marvin Jones

42 - Anthony Miller

43 - Curtis Samuel

44 - Christian Kirk

I love this tier of players, starting with two of the receivers I’m chasing the most this year in Mike Williams and Anthony Miller.

Williams is simply too undervalued. We know he has bankable touchdown regression after scoring just twice on 90 targets, following a season when he found the end zone 10 times on 66 looks. Williams is one of the best vertical receivers and contested-catch artists in the league. Now, he’ll play with a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who led all starting quarterbacks in 2015 with 18.2 percent of his passes going 20-plus yards down the field.

Miller enjoyed a productive stretch last year but should run into 100-plus targets with ease in 2020. He’s the lone ascending talent alongside Allen Robinson in a wide-open passing game. Miller posted a 73.3 percent (83rd percentile) success rate vs. man and 79.1 percent (91st percentile) success rate vs. press in his 2019 Reception Perception sample. He’s legit.

Of course, I’m back in on Curtis Samuel this year. Good news: He’s going way outside the top-45 receivers this year. You can draft him easily. Had just a few more of the 27 uncatchable deep targets he saw in 2019 (per PFF) found their way into his hands, the narrative around Samuel would have been totally flipped.

He was not optimally used by the previous Panthers coaching staff despite still being a great route runner. They overused him as a deep threat, even though they were playing with a passer who couldn’t throw downfield. Now he will play for an offensive coordinator who has already called Samuel “critical to their success,” while predicting he’d “take the next leap.”

WR Tier 8 - Spike week WR4/5 candidates

45 - Darius Slayton

46 - Jerry Jeudy

47 - Deebo Samuel

48 - Emmanuel Sanders

49 - James Washington

50 - CeeDee Lamb

51 - Preston Williams

CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy are going to be NFL studs. Their rookie years might start off a bit slow thanks to the truncated nature of this offseason but they’ll have their moments. Lamb will offer spike weeks thanks to playing in a top-five offense. Jeudy should walk into a starting role opposite Courtland Sutton and push for 85 to 90 targets.

I’m hyped on Diontae Johnson but end up taking James Washington a ton in the double-digit rounds. Washington led the Steelers in air yards (1,266) last year by a wide gap and makes sense as a high-upside flex in games the Steelers boast a lofty projected total.

WR Tier 8 - Young players with hype and veterans with paths to volume

52 - Golden Tate

53 - Robby Anderson

54 - Tyrell Williams

55 - Michael Pittman

56 - Jalen Reagor

57 - Allen Lazard

58 - Sammy Watkins

59 - Breshad Perriman

60 - Mecole Hardman

Michael Pittman might be my favorite rookie receiver to draft. He should have the inside path to a starting gig in Indianapolis alongside a top receiver (T.Y. Hilton) with some health question makes. It’s not out of the realm of possibility Pittman leads the Colts in targets.

Mecole Hardman’s time is coming but it’s hard to imagine comfortably starting him in a traditional 12-team league with any confidence. He and Sammy Watkins are fine best ball targets.

WR Tier 9 - The next wave

61 - Laviska Shenault

62 - Miles Boykin

63 - N'Keal Harry

64 - Justin Jefferson

65 - Henry Ruggs

66 - DeSean Jackson

67 - Brandon Aiyuk

68 - Steven Sims

69 - John Ross

If Pittman is my favorite rookie receiver to draft, Laviska Shenault might be my second. He should receive some of the open field YAC targets that Gardner Minshew thrives on. The thing they’ve been trying to do with Dede Westbrook as a speed slot receiver — Shenault could be that, but actually good.

Save a final-round pick for Miles Boykin, Brandon Aiyuk, and Steven Sims. All three have a chance to carve out significant roles in shallow passing games. Boykin, in particular, interests me as the third option behind Mark Andrews and Hollywood Brown in Baltimore.

WR Tier 10 - End-of-draft picks in deep formats

70 - Cole Beasley

71 - Larry Fitzgerald

72 - Mohamed Sanu

73 - Isaiah Ford

74 - Hunter Renfrow

75 - Parris Campbell

76 - Russell Gage

77 - Jalen Hurd

78 - Randall Cobb

79 - Corey Davis

A couple of super sleeper notes:

-With both Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson opting out, file away Isaiah Ford as the last natural slot for the Dolphins. He posted 21 catches from Weeks 14-17 last year. When I did college wide receivers for Reception Perception (2016-2018) he finished No. 2 behind Sterling Shepard in success rate vs. man coverage.

-Jalen Hurd might end up being a natural injury replacement for Deebo Samuel. Brandon Aiyuk has the same YAC potential, but the hulking slot receiver who was once a 1,285-yard rusher in the SEC could play the bully-ball role Samuel held as a rookie.

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