Fantasy Rookie WRs to Target and Avoid in 2020 Redraft Leagues

Rookie WRs? Redraft? COVID-19! No training camp! As a fellow A-A-Ron once said, “R-E-L-A-X.” There are certain rookie wide receivers that are in a position to succeed in 2020 at the end of drafts, just as there has been in years past. According to 2019 ADP, D.K. Metcalf went right inside the 11th round in 12-team leagues while producing 7 top-36 WR weeks during a 9-week stretch. Deebo Samuel went in the middle of the 13th round and he averaged 16.09 fantasy points per game from weeks 10 to 17 and scoring at least 13 fantasy points in all but one of those games. A.J. Brown didn’t even show up on Fantasy Football Calculator’s top-66 WRs because the Titans were viewed as being a run-heavy team incapable of producing fantasy-relevant pass catchers. He topped 114 receiving yards in four of his final six games of the season. Oops. 2018 showed that 2019 wasn’t an exception. Calvin Ridley almost missed the 10th round in ADP and finished No. 26 in fantasy points per game with 12.9. D.J. Moore almost fell to the 12th round despite averaging 6 catches and 90 yards from weeks 11 to 14 in his rookie season. These players all have something in common besides being talented young WRs; each player had a path to becoming at least the #2 target in their offenses. Volume and opportunity is the key to fantasy football. The following are rookie wide receivers to target late in your drafts. Athletic profiles and opportunity/easiest path to at least #2 targets in their team’s offense will be our primary deciding factor on rookie wide receivers to target.

Fades: CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys) and Jerry Jeudy (Broncos)

Fellow rookie wide receivers CeeDee Lamb (WR39) and Jerry Jeudy (WR42) are going before any of the other rookie wide receivers, but should they be? Lamb is joining a Cowboys team that is returning two wide receivers that were targeted over 110 times each in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Jeudy’s Broncos passed the ball only 57.80% of the time last season. With target hog Courtland Sutton (126 targets) and Noah Fant (7 deep targets, No. 11 among tight ends) above Jeudy in the pecking order plus Melvin Gordon expected to catch around 40-50 passes, Jeudy is not a rookie wide receiver to target in 2020. The reason to fade these two talented rookies is that they have an established hierarchy of targets in front of them. They are less of a guarantee for 2020 production than the three rookie receivers that are about to be mentioned.

Henry Ruggs (Raiders)

Last season, the Raiders were led by tight end Darren Waller in the receiving categories as he saw a huge volume with 117 targets (No. 3 among tight ends). Due to a weak wide receiver crew highlighted by veteran Tyrell Williams (42/651/6) and fifth-round rookie Hunter Renfrow (49/605/4), Waller was thrust into a heavy workload. Looking at opportunity, Ruggs has the easiest path to targets in the league among all rookie receivers. Williams has never been anything more than an NFL team’s #3 receiving option and Renfrow is limited to slot receiver work. Henry Ruggs is going to be the Raiders’ wide receiver from day one in 2020. Ruggs has 4.27 speed and a 136.9 Burst Score (98th percentile) to pair with massive hands (10 1/8 inch hands); Derek Carr has never had a better-built receiver to throw deep to than Ruggs.

Derek Carr’s hesitancy to throw deep needs to be addressed. How can a deep threat produce when the quarterback doesn’t throw deep? Indeed, Carr (47 deep throw attempts, No. 25) doesn’t throw deep often, but he isn’t awful at it when he does throw deep (36.2-percent deep ball completion, No. 18). Henry Ruggs will not solely rely on deep targets for fantasy production though. PFF’s passing and receiving grades show that Carr and Ruggs are a perfect match in the intermediate part of the passing game.

Darren Waller is the only player that Henry Ruggs won’t immediately take over in the receiving pecking order. The question in 2020 will be if Waller is a legit #1 receiving option now that he has a competent receiving option to compete with? If the answer is no, then Ruggs will be a #1 NFL receiving option in 2020. Either way, Ruggs has already achieved the #2 target role that we want to identify in rookie receivers when searching for year one production late in rookie drafts.

Brandon Aiyuk (49ers)

The “Yards After King”, Brandon Aiyuk, was a late-round rookie wide receiver to target in redraft the moment the 49ers drafted him in the first round of the NFL draft after losing Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. Aiyuk and his first-round NFL draft capital placed him as the #3 receiving option on the team behind George Kittle and Samuel. Another way of looking at it is that he was an injury away from being an NFL team’s #2 receiving option. What’s that? Deebo Samuel broke his left foot this offseason?!

Initial optimism about Deebo Samuel’s Jones fracture had people believing that he would miss ten weeks and be ready for week 1 of the 2020 season. Recently, 49ers GM John Lynch came out to admit that Samuel “may miss some games at the start of the year”. Matthew Betz of BallBlast Football and The Fantasy Footballers is one of the most recent PTs/medical experts that talked about Samuel’s injury and expectations for him in 2020. Every medical expert has Samuel missing some amount of games and the PUP is a strong likelihood for Samuel and that means he will miss at least the first 6 games of the season.

How does a more explosive version of Deebo Samuel sound? With an extraordinary 92nd-percentile Burst Score, Brandon Aiyuk provides redraft drafters a slightly more dangerous version of Samuel from an athletic perspective. While Samuel is out, Aiyuk should take over his role in the offense. This role led to Samuel finishing with the 5th most YAC with 461 yards, 9 red zone receptions (No. 13 among wide receivers, and 6 TDs (No. 22 among wide receivers) last season. If Aiyuk is truly the “King”, then he is going to rack up fantasy productive performances early and often in 2020 and secure a role in his team game plans even when Samuel returns. Maybe the 2nd year player with half a season of fantasy production and a currently broken foot cedes his role from last season permanently to the King.

Denzel Mims (Jets)

The first Jets pass catcher in fantasy football drafts is Jamison Crowder at pick 114.6. Breshad Perriman is being picked as WR66 in drafts. Starting TE Chris Herndon remains outside of the top-20 TEs selected according to Fantasy Football Calculator. You can hate the Jets’ offense, or more specifically Adam Gase, but there’s guaranteed to be fantasy value on this team when considering the low ADPs of all of the pass-catchers on this team. This is where Denzel Mims enters. Mims has a legit path to become the Jets’ #1 passing option in 2020. The best part about Mims is that he is FREE as he missed the top-67 WR cutoff on FantasyFootballCalculator.

Sure, Crowder was a target hog last season (24.7-percent target rate last season), but those targets led to a 6.8 YPT (No. 84 among wide receivers) and he finished as fringe WR3 in fantasy last season. Veteran journeyman Perriman is a deep threat (25 deep targets, No. 14 among wide receivers) decoy (13.0-percent target rate, No. 88 among wide receivers). His resurrected career with the Browns in 2018 made for a nice comeback story for the former Ravens’ first-round bust, but his 25/506/5 stretch in weeks 13-17 to end the season is something to bet against considering that most of that production was when Evans essentially missed weeks 14-17 and Godwin missed weeks 16 and 17.

Let’s break down the vacated targets and air yards from 2019. The Jets have 183 targets (37.1-percent of their total targets) and 2031 air yards (a whopping 50.2-percent of their 2019 total) vacated from last season. The targets are the third most vacated in the entire league and they have more than 400 vacated air yards than the next team. Opportunity is there for Denzel Mims! Jamison Crowder’s 122 targets last season was already No. 16 among wide receivers in 2019. Chris Herndon returns after he ran only 9 routes during his injury-plagued 2019 season. He saw 56 targets in 14 games in 2018. However, Herndon is likely to absorb the targets that Griffin received last season before claiming any of the vacated targets. It would not be surprising to see Herndon’s targets also come at the cost of Jamison Crowder because the Jets abandoned targeting the TE position without Herndon last season (57 TE targets, 11.6-percent of the Jets’ total targets: both bottom-3 in the NFL). Le’Veon Bell already had 78 targets last season (No. 7 among running backs) and saw a respectable 15.9-percent of a target share for the Jets in 2019. Between Crowder, Bell, and Herndon I can’t see more than 50 of the vacated targets going to these already heavily involved players (with Herndon also taking Griffin’s targets).

With roughly 130 vacated targets left to split between the two projected outside wide receivers, Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman, Mims will prevail over the veteran that has been, at best, the third wide receiver option on his professional football teams. Last season, A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel made late-season impacts in the 2019 fantasy football season and finished with 84 and 81 targets respectively. It is not unimaginable to see Mims exceed 80 targets for the Jets in 2020 and make his fantasy football impact as a rookie much earlier in the season than Brown and Samuel did during their rookie seasons.

Conclusion

The key to fantasy football success is volume. The path to receiving volume is a talent hierarchy. The most talented players on an NFL team will command the most targets and score the most fantasy points. The three aforementioned rookie WRs in this article are talented NFL players, as depicted by their 1st and 2nd round NFL draft capital. The difference that separates these highly drafted NFL rookies from their fellow rookie WRs is that they also have an opportunity at being a #2 passing option on their teams to start the season. When it’s late in your fantasy drafts and you’re in the double-digit rounds you need to add upside to your roster. Targeting these rookie WRs will raise the ceiling of fantasy teams and give your team starting WR options during what will be an unusual season due to COVID-19.

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