- Five crucial questions to consider when sizing up the wide receiver position for your fantasy drafts.
Welcome to wide receiver, 2019’s most exciting position. With many fantasy leagues turning to a PPR format, wide receivers score a sizable portion of fantasy points each week. On top of simply passing more frequently, NFL offenses continue to use more 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) than ever before. More wide receivers on the field and more passes overall means more fantasy production. 2019 in particular features a number of interesting trends at the position. On top of a few emerging young stars, a few of fantasy’s most familiar names work into the twilight of their career.
Among fantasy football’s aging veterans, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green and Julian Edelman will play beyond the age of 30 in 2019. Jones and Brown have each recorded five straight seasons with at least 1,250 receiving yards. Hilton, Green and Edelman all missed games in 2017, but each still ranked among the top-17 receivers with at least 16.6 fantasy points per game.
As for the younger crowd, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyreek Hill emerged as two of fantasy’s most dangerous weapons in 2018. Hill finished as fantasy’s number three overall receiver with 1,479 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster finished just behind Hill with 1,426 yards and seven scores. Each will operate as their team’s top receiving option ahead of the 2019 season.
The fun also doesn’t end there. Every year, breakout wideouts emerge and enter the upper echelon of receiving talent. This season, Chris Godwin, Tyler Lockett, Kenny Golladay and numerous others find themselves in increased roles. With little competition in the way, any or all of these players could ascend to WR1 status by the end of 2019.
Add in Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Amari Cooper and Keenan Allen all operating near the age apex for wide receivers and 2019 should feature fireworks at the position. With all that said, let’s dig into the wide receiver position with five burning questions to consider leading up to draft day.
Where’s the position’s indecision point?
As shown above, the wide receiver position looks quite deep for 2019. Each of the top 15 wide receivers has enough upside to finish near the top of leaderboards. A few receivers in this range will suffer injuries or fail to live up to expectations, but all of them can be drafted with confidence. So, at what point do concerns start creeping in?
Currently, Brandin Cooks and Julian Edelman sit at WR15 and WR16. At this point, each player brings legitimate concerns, but also projects to see significant opportunity. With four-straight 1,000-yard seasons Cooks looks slightly safer than Edelman. Edelman remains locked into the WR1 role in New England, but enters his age-33 season.
On top of the age concerns, the Patriots seem to have shifted offensive philosophies. After investing a first-round pick into Sony Michel last year, the Patriots ran at the seventh-highest rate in all of football last years (45.09%). This high run rate coincides directly with a decreasing efficiency for Tom Brady. Now 42, Brady’s 68.8 QBR and 7.26 Average Net Yards per attempt both dropped for the third consecutive season. While Edelman remained productive throughout 2018 despite the high run rate and Brady’s play, it remains enough to raise questions going forward.
Behind this group, a massive tier of WR2’s come off the board. From Chris Godwin at WR19 to Marquez Valdes-Scantling at WR36, any of these wideouts could surge up the board in 2019. However, they also bring a terrifying floor that the elite wide receivers simply do not. Right now, the first tier drop at the wide receiver position occurs between WR15 and WR16.
Who will cement himself as an elite receiver this season?
Wide receivers notoriously take time to develop in the NFL. For example, Tyreek Hill began his career as a part-time gadget player in the Chiefs’ offense. Coming out of West Alabama, Hill recorded only 593 yards as a rookie, while adapting to the rigors of the NFL. Undeniably talented, Hill came back the next year and posted 1,183 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Each of the last two seasons, Hill recorded at least 75 catches, and 1,183 receiving yards.
Similar to Hill last year, Chris Godwin now enters his third season in the NFL. After a modest rookie season with 525 receiving yards, Godwin progressed in 2018 and recorded 842 yards. Also similar to Hill’s situation with the Chiefs, the Bucs went all-in on Godwin this offseason. Both Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson left town in free agency, opening the door for additional Godwin opportunities.
Looking at Godwin a little closer, his 842 receiving yards look even more impressive, considering he played fewer than 70% of Tampa Bay’s snaps on eight occasions. Athletically gifted, Godwin ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at 6'1", 209 pounds (89th-percentile). While not quite as explosive as Hill (few are), Godwin’s early career success and athleticism create the profile of a productive receiver in the NFL.
Additionally, Godwin performed well in efficiency metrics, allowing the Bucs to use him in high leverage situations. Godwin proved himself as an efficient target with a 110.9 QB rating when targeted, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. This remains important, because the Buccaneers used Godwin quite a bit down-field. In 2018, he notched an average depth of target of 11.9 yards, along with 1,134 air yards. New head coach Bruce Arians used a vertical offense in Arizona, which should help Godwin’s fantasy value in 2019.
Finally, Godwin played an important role for the Buccaneers in the red zone. Last year, he led the team in both red zone targets (16) and targets inside the 10-yard line (11). For the sake of comparison, Mike Evans only saw 14 red zone targets, and six targets inside the 10-yard line, despite playing a full-time role in the Tampa Bay offense.
Still only 23-yeard old, Godwin has grown substantially as a player throughout the first two years of his career. Now a fixture of the Tampa Bay offense, Godwin should breakout in a major way in 2019.
Which passing games do you need to get a piece of?
Each season, a few NFL offenses sustain multiple fantasy-relevant pass catchers. Last year, the Chiefs burst onto the scene, while the season prior the Rams took the league by storm. This year, the Cleveland Browns look poised for an offensive renaissance. The Browns have finished 20th or worse in points per game in each of the last five years. However, last year they showed signs of life, with that number creeping up to 20th (22.4 points per game). Now with Freddie Kitchens entering his first full offseason as head coach and Todd Monken coming over from Tampa Bay as offensive coordinator, this Browns’ offense has the chance to explode in 2018.
Starting with personnel, Cleveland is absolutely primed for an offensive explosion. This begins with sophomore sensation Baker Mayfield. Despite only starting 13 games his rookie season, Mayfield finished with 3,725 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. Mayfield not only attempted the fourth most deep passes in all of football last year (75), but he completed them at the ninth highest rate in the league (41.3%). This was while dealing with 32 dropped passes (fourth-most in the NFL). Mayfield also showed improvement throughout the year. After the Browns’ Week 11 bye, he completed 68% of his passes. Prior to the bye week, he completed only 64.4% of his passes.
At the skill positions, Mayfield will take advantage of Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Duke Johnson. Beckham remains the apex predator at the wide receiver position with 1,000 yards receiving in four of his five seasons. In 2017 Beckham missed the mark due to a season-ending ankle injury that limited him to four games. However, Beckham notched, 1,052 yards in 2018 despite only playing 12 games.
Playing primarily out of the slot, Landry has at least 950 yards and 131 targets each of the past four seasons. T.J. Hernandez showed that targets per game remain one of the stickiest stats in all of football. Even with Beckham’s presence, Landry’s production shouldn’t drop too far. Returning to his true home in the slot, Landry’s catch rate should climb from 54.4% in 2018 back toward his career average of 66.9%. At tight end, David Njoku, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds despite weighting 246 pounds, provides an athletic mismatch. Out of the backfield, Duke Johnson has at least 47 catches in each of his NFL seasons and Kareem Hunt has averaged nearly three catches per game in his career.
Already top-10 in plays per game last year (63.9), Cleveland’s offense should excel again in 2019.
Who’s a mid-round pick with WR1 upside?
There are plenty of options to take home this honor in 2019. Any one of Brandin Cooks, Tyler Lockett, Chris Godwin or D.J. Moore qualify as mid-round picks with WR1 upside. However, digging deeper, Christian Kirk provides tantalizing upside at WR29 in the sixth or seventh round.
As a rookie, Christian Kirk finished with 43 catches for 590 yards and three scores on the Arizona Cardinals. When factoring in games played, Christian Kirk actually finished with a 21.5% target share in the offense. Unfortunately, that led only 68 targets with the Cardinals ranking 31st in plays per game (56.4). With Larry Fitzgerald entering his age-36 season, Kirk has a legitimate chance to lead this Cardinals team in targets.
Aside from the depth chart, Kirk should benefit from new head coach and play-caller Kliff Kingsbury coming to town. Kingsbury ran the air raid offense at Texas Tech, which allowed him to finish 31st or better in points per game each of the last four years. Similarly, Kingsbury ran one of the fastest offenses in all of college football. Tech ranked No. 4, 9, 2, 3 and 40 in plays per game over the last five years, running more plays than any other team in that span.
Moving to the NFL, Kingsbury expects to retain this high-paced offense and combine it with more four- and five-wide receiver sets. A staple of the air raid system, Kingsbury will spread defenses out, which should allow Kirk to produce in 2019.
Which receiver should you own the most shares of this year?
This question remains a bit tricky, with draft slot dictating a lot at the top end of drafts. However, as the mid and late rounds unfold, drafting a player a round or so above his ADP doesn’t come with as much opportunity cost. One player worth the risk in this area of drafts is Will Fuller.
Injuries have severely limited Fuller throughout his career, but when healthy he has dominated at the highest level. After missing a number of games with broken ribs in 2017, Fuller tore his ACL in Week 8 of 2018 and missed the rest of the season. So far in training camp, Fuller has been practicing without limitations, boding well for his 2019 season.
Looking back to his healthy games in 2018, Fuller recorded 32 catches for 503 receiving yards and four scores. Extrapolated for a full 16 game season and Fuller would have finished with 73 catches for 1,150 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Fuller also proved himself as one of the most efficient targets in all of football. Last year, he finished second in the NFL in QB rating when targeted (137.5), and third in yards per target in all of football (11.2).
With Fuller on the field, Deshaun Watson averaged 289.3 passing yards per game, but only 240 yards without him. Now healthy and playing a full-time role in the Texans’ offense, Fuller’s 2018 extrapolated stats place him at WR14 overall in fantasy. Coming off the board at WR33, Fuller looks like a candidate to provide immense return on investment.