Receivers who should go higher in fantasy drafts: Second-year wideouts ready for stardom

ECR stands for “Expert Consensus Ranking,” which means the average ranks of many members of the fantasy football industry and is typically similar to ADP (which differs from site-to-site). This will be an ongoing series highlighting some big differences between ECR and my own ranks. In general, it’s usually best to regress to the market some, and knowing your league’s ADP remains equally important when drafting, but I rank the following players a lot higher than the general fantasy community.

Players who should go higher: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs
Players going too early: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans (ECR = WR16 vs. DDD = WR6)

He surpassed 1,050 receiving yards with eight touchdowns despite seeing fewer than 85 targets as a rookie, and any regression in efficiency should be more than negated by an increase in volume. Brown recorded the second-most yards after the catch average (8.7) in a decade last year, when he also had two more 50+ yard catches than any other player in the league. He recorded the second-most yards per route run and fantasy points per target as a rookie since 2010, including the most 40+ yard catches since 2006. No receiver benefitted more from play action than Brown, but there’s also the real possibility he gets even better in year two.

Brown should see a big increase in volume as Tennessee’s clear alpha, and Ryan Tannehill was second in CPOE behind only Drew Brees last year, so this connection appears very real. Forget the numbers, Brown screams superstar when watching him play Brown has the upside to be the No. 1 wide receiver on fantasy draft boards in 2021, and I wouldn’t think twice about taking him over DeAndre Hopkins or either Bucs wideout in 2020.

Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens (ECR = WR32 vs. DDD = WR16)

It’s possible Brown won’t hold up physically, but he was impressive as a rookie playing way underweight and at far less than 100% while dealing with a foot injury that prevented him from even practicing. Brown had a screw removed during the offseason, when he’s been putting in serious work and is up from 157 pounds to 180.

The Ravens appeared to have big plans for Brown as a rookie before injuries slowed him (he ranked No. 11 in WOPR over the first month) and didn’t add much receiver depth in the draft/offseason but did trade away Hayden Hurst. Brown finished No. 8 in fantasy points per route playing on one leg as a rookie, and he’s a deep threat (with serious speed) on a team that PFF graded as the No. 1 pass blocking unit last year. Brown recorded the NFL’s best Passer Rating when Lamar Jackson targeted him, and defenses will be primarily focused on trying to stop the Ravens’ league-best rushing attack (Miles Boykin is a sleeper). Hollywood’s ADP is sure to be multiple rounds higher in 2021.

Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team (ECR = WR21 vs. DDD = WR9)

He's a freak athlete who somehow finished top-12 as a rookie in WOPR, yards per target and Passer Rating despite ranking 85th in Target Accuracy (and there’s reason to expect QB improvement in 2020). Odell Beckham Jr. is the only rookie wide receiver PFF has ever graded better than McLaurin, who also ranked No. 1 in Contested Catch Rate and No. 2 in Dominator Rating. He’s Washington’s clear alpha unlike many other WR/TE situations in the league (the team surprisingly spent little draft capital on receivers, and their next best ECR at WR is No. 80!). McLaurin is a budding star who’s looking at a massive target share and is a top-10 wide receiver on my board.

DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks (ECR = WR22 vs. DDD = WR13)

He fell to the last pick of the second round of the draft despite these workout metrics because he was considered a raw prospect, but Metcalf immediately commanded 100 targets as a rookie in a run-heavy offense despite still learning how to run routes. Metcalf led the NFL in end-zone targets (18) by a wide margin (next highest had 14). While fantasy managers rightfully wish Seattle would #LetRussCook, Russell Wilson has been top-three in end-zone pass attempts each of the past three seasons. And all this was with Chris Carson staying healthy. The Seahawks’ defense also continues to decline (the NFC West is setup for a bunch of high-scoring matchups in 2020), so Metcalf has a ton of touchdown upside.

The fact that the Seahawks are without a pass-catching back and have a narrow target tree means Metcalf and Tyler Lockett should both be treated as top-15 fantasy receivers. Look for them to outperform the Mike Evans/Chris Godwin duo going earlier in drafts.

CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys (ECR = WR47 vs. DDD = WR28)

Lamb dominated as an 18-year-old freshman and enters the NFL after leading the nation in receiving yards, touchdowns, and yards per target over the last two seasons and as PFF’s all-time leader in depth-adjusted yards per target. Like Lamb, Randy Moss also unexpectedly fell during his draft and entered the league as part of a loaded offense as his team’s No. 3 wide receiver, and he proceeded to score 17 touchdowns as a rookie (think of this as Lamb’s floor 😀). Amari Cooper has an underrated injury history that last season alone included foot, ankle, quadriceps and knee sprains, and he just got paid during the offseason.

The Cowboys have plenty of offense to spread around, as they averaged an NFL-high 440.9 yards per game last season and should perform better in the red zone. Moreover, Randall Cobb and Jason Witten left behind 166 targets, and after ranking 21st in pass rate last season, the Cowboys’ new head coach had the NFL’s highest pass rate from 2015-2018. I’d much prefer the No. 3 WR indoors in this offense than the No. 2 option with uncertainty at QB (like in Denver). Lamb is going to eat everywhere, but it’s especially unfair to defensive backs that he’ll see so much time in the slot (pedestrian Cobb ranked top-10 in YPT in the role last season despite being among league leaders in drops). Lamb’s ECR/ADP feels like a Bill Ripken-level error.

Other WRs I’m higher on: Diontae Johnson (ECR = WR37 vs. DDD = WR29), Anthony Miller (ECR = WR45 vs. DDD = WR34), DeSean Jackson (ECR = WR60 vs. DDD = WR39) and Breshad Perriman (ECR = WR53 vs. DDD = WR41)

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