Fitz on Fantasy: 2020 Wide Receiver Rankings, 11-30
Pat Fitzmaurice finished second out of 160 experts in FantasyPros’ 2019 preseason rankings accuracy contest, and he’s now No. 1 in multi-year preseason rankings accuracy for 2017-2019. Fitzmaurice’s full 2020 redraft rankings are posted here, but this series of articles helps explain the thinking behind the rankings. Be sure to check out his already released explainers:
For more personalized advice, be sure to check out Pat’s Patreon page where you can have direct access to Pat for your specific fantasy dilemmas.
11. Odell Beckham Jr., Browns
OBJ hasn’t fully satisfied fantasy managers since 2016, so it’s understandable that a lot of people need a “show me” season before they climb back aboard the Beckham bandwagon. He’s been hurt a lot, he’s a diva, we still aren’t entirely sure whether Baker Mayfield is a good quarterback, and the Cleveland offense could be run-heavy under new head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Is there any doubt, though, that Beckham is going to ball out if he’s healthy? Dealing with a sports hernia all last season and playing in a broken offense, OBJ still had 74 catches for 1,035 yards. And who can forget how good he was during his first three years in the league, when he averaged 6.7 catches, 95.9 yards and 0.81 TDs per game? He’s only 27, so that mouth-watering upside is still there.
12. D.J. Moore, Panthers
Denniston Moore Jr. is coming off the first of what should be many 1,000-yard seasons, and there’s little doubt he’ll be a star for years to come. I like him, but the sharps are swarming him like bees on a marigold, so I haven’t been getting him in any industry drafts. (Maybe I’ll be able to get him in one of my home leagues.)
Should we be bothered that he’s only scored six touchdowns in two seasons? Probably not. He deserves a mulligan for his rookie year (which was a solid debut otherwise), and the Panthers’ QB situation was a tire fire last season.
But I don’t know that Teddy Bridgewater is the QB to help Moore hit double-digit touchdowns, and while I’m excited to see what the new Matt Rhule/Joe Brady offense will look like in Carolina, Christian McCaffrey is sure to command plenty of targets, and Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson are also in the mix.
I’m reluctant to invoke the tired old “too many mouths to feed” cliché, because Moore might be such a special talent that Samuel and Anderson end up marginalized. And as bad as the Carolina defense figures to be, the Panthers might be exceedingly pass-happy since they figure to be playing from behind a lot.
Moore is a stud, and I think he’ll soon be a perennial top-10 receiver, but I’m not ready to go all in just yet.
13. Adam Thielen, Vikings
Thielen lost his tag-team partner when Stefon Diggs left for Buffalo, and that’s almost assuredly a good thing for Thielen’s fantasy outlook. After all, Shawn Michaels’ legendary wrestling career didn’t really take off until he super-kicked tag-team partner Marty Jannetty through a plate-glass window.
In 2018, Thielen had a career-high 153 targets, leading to a 113-1,373-9 stat line and a WR6 fantasy finish (half-point PPR). That sort of a target total isn’t out of the question for Thielen this year, though something in the 125-130 neighborhood is probably more realistic.
A hamstring injury limited Thielen to 10 games and 418 yards last year, but aside from slight drops in catch rate and yards per target, there were no signs of diminished effectiveness. I don’t know how well a late bloomer with average athleticism is going to age, but Thielen is only 30, so it’s still too early to worry about age-related decline.
14. Amari Cooper, Cowboys
Tickets to the Amari Cooper bandwagon are selling as sluggishly as tour bus tickets in Provo, Utah. One reason for the malaise is that Cooper will have to share targets with impressive third-year WR Michael Gallup and first-round rookie CeeDee Lamb. I also think people are simply bored with Cooper, which may be why I’ve been in drafts where 20 receivers come off the board ahead of him.
Cooper finished WR9 last year despite dealing with a knee injury late in the season. He averaged a career-best 10.0 yards per target despite facing several of the cornerbacks in the league. He’s still only 26.
This could be a very nice buying opportunity if everyone else in your league is fading Coop.
15. Calvin Ridley, Falcons
The fantasy football community always falls hard for the acclaimed route runners. Antonio Brown, Keenan Allen Stefon Diggs won hearts with their precise stems and well-sold feints. Now Ridley is the route-running crush du jour.
It’s not just the route running, though. Ridley’s usage spiked last season after the Falcons traded Mohamed Sanu to the Patriots, and without a proven No. 3 receiver on the roster, maybe there’s room for Julio Jones and Ridley to both turn in WR1 production in 2020. Atlanta faces one of the NFL’s most difficult schedules, so the Falcons may be facing a lot of pass-heavy game scripts.
The appeal here is understandable. I just find it hard to project Ridley for more than about 120 targets with Julio around, so I can’t quite see the WR1 upside that some other folks are seeing.
16. Robert Woods, Rams
There’s been a lot of offseason chatter about how Rams TE Tyler Higbee went nuclear down the stretch last year, but Woods had 95 or more receiving yards in five of his last seven games, catching 52 passes over that stretch.
After four sluggish years in Buffalo to begin his NFL career, Woods has blossomed with the Rams, averaging 88 catches and 1,177 yards over the last two seasons. Somehow Woods only made it into the end zone twice last year, and TD scoring is the one blemish on Woods’ profile. He’s scored only 25 times in 100 career games, and he’s never had more than six touchdowns in a single season.
Despite the history, there’s surely a TD bounce coming if Woods continues to get the same sort of usage – and there’s really no reason he shouldn’t. This is a stable profile and a rock-solid investment.
17. Cooper Kupp, Rams
No receiver has been more difficult for me to rank than Kupp. Through the first eight weeks of 2019, he had 58 catches for 792 yards and five TDs, making him the WR2 over that span behind only Michael Thomas. Then, over the second half of the season, he topped 65 receiving yards only once, when he had 99 yards in Week 17.
A big part of it was usage. Through the Rams’ first 11 games, Kupp played 88% of the offensive snaps. In their last five games, the Rams went with two-TE, two-WR sets far more often, and Kupp’s snap share fell to 63%.
Chris Raybon of The Action Network, one of the smartest fantasy analysts around, makes a strong case for Kupp, noting that he’s a close friend of Rams QB Jared Goff and that, unlike Robert Woods, Kupp was immediately productive upon reaching the NFL.
It’s slightly troubling that the Rams came out of an offensive slump last year by going to heavy use of 12 personnel, which did Kupp no favors. If the Rams use 12 as their base offense in 2020, this may be too high a ranking for Kupp. But I tend to agree with Raybon on this, and it’s entirely possible a WR17 ranking is too conservative.
18. A.J. Brown, Titans
Brown isn’t going to average 20.2 yards per catch and 12.5 yards per target again, but he’s also sure to see more than the 84 targets he saw last year if he plays 16 games.
So the efficiency will come down and the volume will go up. I’m not sure whether it will amount to a push, but I’m being a little more conservative than other rankers are with Brown, even though I think he’s the real deal. The Titans have shown us that they’ll be outrageously run-heavy when the game script affords them that luxury, so projecting Brown for a WR1 season seems like wishcasting.
19. D.K. Metcalf, Seahawks
If I did rankings based solely on projections, I’d have to put Tyler Lockett ahead of Metcalf. There’s probably a 60% chance Lockett scores more fantasy points than Metcalf this season. But Lockett has a relative narrow range of outcomes. Metcalf is a size/speed/contested catch unicorn whose upside might be somewhere close to peak Randy Moss.
Metcalf had 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. If his ascendance is gradual and he has, say, a 65-1,000-8 season in 2020, you won’t be too disappointed about having bought him at his current fifth-round ADP. But if this 6-4, 229-pound, blazing-fast, ridiculously strong 22-year-old harnesses his superpowers in Year 2 and starts to approach full potential, that fifth-round price will look like a screaming bargain.
Metcalf is one of my favorite buys this year.
20. Terry McLaurin, Washington
Here’s another of my favorite 2020 buys, although his price is rising faster than college tuition.
McLaurin produced a 58-919-7 stat line in only 14 games last season, and his star power was evident whenever he took the field. He could have a target share near or above 25% this year since Washington has little else at the WR position.
The only thing keeping McLaurin’s ADP in the low-end WR2/high-end WR3 range is the Washington QB situation. But rookie Dwayne Haskins played competently down the stretch after looking lost in his first few starts, and he and McLaurin were college teammates at Ohio State. Don’t let a lack of faith in Haskins be the reason you fade a stud like McLaurin.
21. D.J. Chark, Jaguars
After a forgettable rookie season, Chark came alive last year, catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s going to be the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver this season, and perhaps the only thing that could keep Sutton’s target share from climbing higher than last year’s 20% would be a huge rookie season from talented second-round pick Laviska Shenault.
Even if Shenault is impactful from the start, there could be plenty of targets to go around, since Vegas projects the Jaguars to be a five-win team, and they’ll probably be throwing a lot to try to stay in games.
22. Courtland Sutton, Broncos
This WR2 tier is just chock full of precocious young talent, and Sutton is another ascendant comet. He’s 6-4, 216 pounds, and he absolutely dominates defenders at the catch point. (He also plays faster than his 4.54 timed speed.)
Sutton finished WR19 last year, and I’m a little worried that might be his ceiling this year with Drew Lock trying to settle in as the Broncos’ starting quarterback. Lock played reasonably well in five starts last season, but he wasn’t exactly a flawless QB prospect, and there are bound to be bumps. The Broncos also added WRs Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in this years draft and have a good young TE in Noah Fant, so there’s a bit of target competition for Sutton.
It’s possible Sutton is good enough to overcome these obstacles and have a low-end WR1 type of season, but something in the mid- to low-end WR2 range is probably a more reasonable place to set our expectations.
23. Tyler Lockett, Seahawks
This is probably to low for Lockett, a proven talent playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but the WR2 tier is loaded with talent this year, and I just like some of the youngsters a little more than Lockett.
24. DeVante Parker, Dolphins
After teasing us for four years, Parker went off in 2019, finally making good on his first-round draft pedigree.
Parker finished WR7 in half-point PPR scoring and was fabulous down the stretch, with four 100-yard days and five TDs over Miami’s last seven games. That all happened after rookie Preston Williams tore his ACL in Week 9, so it’s fair to worry about some statistical pullback for Parker now that Williams appears to be fully recovered.
But Parker could have a little bit of recoil and still be the sort of receiver you’re happy to put into your lineup every week. A possible QB transition in Miami isn’t much of a concern since the options are either Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose YOLO style usually means good things for his pass catchers, or Tua Tagovailoa, one of the most accurate throwers to enter the NFL in the last decade.
25. Will Fuller, Texans
Oh, please, let this porcelain dynamo stay healthy for a full season. Over the last two years, Fuller has averaged a robust 10.1 yards per target, and he figures to get more work this year now that target hog DeAndre Hopkins has left for Arizona. Fuller has averaged 14.3 yards per catch over four NFL seasons and has the speed of Hermes.
Fuller doesn’t have the constitution of a Greek god, however. He’s missed 14 games over the last two years and 22 games over his four NFL seasons. He’s listed at 184 pounds and has reportedly added muscle to try to ward off injuries, but his durability is clearly an issue.
What makes Fuller an attractive buy is that the injury risk is embedded in his price, so buyers stand to turn a big profit if he can make it through the season healthy. Even if he misses a few games, fine. You get to replace him with a bench player; it’s not as if you have to take a zero in that spot. And as long as Fuller is healthy, you’ll be happy to plug him into your lineup very week. Fuller would probably have to miss a significant chunk of the season not to pay off on his WR35 ADP.
26. Tyler Boyd, Bengals
I’m pro-Boyd, but in the interest of fairness, allow me to present an unflattering stat: Boyd had the seventh-highest target total (148) last season and still only finished WR23 in fantasy scoring.
Some of the blame goes to the Cincinnati quarterbacks, who completed only 57.7% of their throws and averaged just 6.45 yards per pass attempt. In 2018, Boyd had a modest 108 targets and finished WR17, so it’s not as if he’s a slacker.
The Bengals’ passing game should be more potent this season with rookie Joe Burrow taking over at quarterback. A.J. Green is back after missing the entire 2019 season, and his return could eat into Boyd’s target total, but the oft-injured Green is already dealing with a hamstring issue and is far from a lock to play a full season.
Burrow’s primary slot receiver at LSU last season, Justin Jefferson, had 111 catches for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. Boyd obviously isn’t going to put up those types of numbers, but it’s exciting to imagine what he might be able to do as Burrow’s primary slot man in 2020.
27. Keenan Allen, Chargers
Allen is a hell of a player, but I’m staying away.
The Chargers had 597 pass attempts in 2019. They’re probably not coming close to that number in 2020, and they could conceivably be south of 500 pass attempts. This is a team built for a ball-control offense. The Chargers have a terrific defense, so they should be competitive in most games, yet their QB situation looks shaky, with mediocre veteran Tyrod Taylor and raw rookie Justin Herbert as the two options.
Allen has averaged 148 targets and 101 catches over the last three seasons. The Chargers aren’t going to throw enough for Allen to hit those numbers, and he’ll have target competition from three pretty good pass catchers: RB Austin Ekeler, WR Mike Williams and TE Hunter Henry.
28. Stefon Diggs, Bills
The move from Minnesota to Buffalo probably bodes ill for Diggs’ fantasy outlook.
The Bills had 513 pass attempts in 2019 and figure to be run-heavy again this year. The Bills actually threw more passes than the Vikings attempted last year (466), but while Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins was a model of efficiency, completing 69.1 percent of his throws and averaging 8.1 yards per attempt, Bills QB Josh Allen completed 58.8 percent of his throws and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.
Diggs averaged 17.9 yards per catch in 2019 – a career high by far. In four previous seasons, he averaged 11.6 yards per catch. And what happens when Diggs, wo can be a bit of a diva, starts seeing errant throws from the notoriously scattershot Allen? The Bills also have a good No. 2 receiver in John Brown, so it’s not as if Diggs is in line for a gargantuan target share.
As with Keenan Allen, Diggs is a terrific player operating in what appears to be an unfavorable ecosystem.
29. Marquise Brown, Ravens
Admittedly, I find it a bit concerning that some of my 13-year-old son’s friends are bigger than Brown. “Hollywood” is listed at 5-9, 170 pounds, and it’s almost comical to see him lined up next to 325-pound linemen in the Ravens’ huddle, looking as if they were members of different species.
But Brown is electric. He scored touchdowns on just under 10 percent of his 71 targets last season and had two-TD games against both the Dolphins and Rams last year.
Target volume is an issue since the Ravens are so run-happy, but there’s reason for optimism on that. Baltimore passed on only 45.9% of its offensive snaps – a ratio straight out of the 1970s. The Ravens had the luxury of running so much because they had so many favorable game scripts. Such is the case when your record is 14-2. Odds are things won’t go quite as smoothly for the Ravens in 2020, so they’ll have to throw a bit more. Also, tight ends accounted for 40.9% of team targets last year – an outrageously large share that figures to come down in 2020. And while the Ravens drafted a couple of receivers, Brown is still the clear No. 1.
If this speedy little guy can get to just 100 targets – and I think there’s a good chance he does – he could be an immensely valuable fantasy asset.
30. T.Y. Hilton, Colts
Hilton turns 31 in November and missed six games with leg injuries last year, so this once-appealing profile has become less enticing. He still figures to be the Colts’ No. 1 receiver, but promising youngsters Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman will vie for targets as well, and Indy projects to be somewhat run-heavy. Hilton could still be a useful asset, but don’t overpay.