The best wide receivers in the NFL are usually among the best wide receivers in fantasy football.
It wasn’t hard to predict that DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones and Michael Thomas were going to be good in 2019. They’ve posted monstrous numbers time and time again, they had developed a good rapport with their quarterbacks and they had acted as essential cogs in their respective offenses for years.
As such, they were taken at the top of the draft in 2019, and all three of them ranked as top 10 wide receivers in the league. Easy enough.
But joining them at the top of the fantasy leaderboards in 2019 were names like Chris Godwin (No. 2), DeVante Parker (No. 6) and A.J. Brown (No. 10). These guys were not drafted in the first or second rounds, no. Using NFL.com’s 2019 mock draft, which took place in July of 2019, Godwin was selected at the end of the fourth round, Parker was taken in the 13th, and then-rookie A.J. Brown was nowhere to be found.
If you drafted one of these guys, it’s likely that your team performed fairly well, so long as the rest of your WR corps after the draft wasn’t composed of, say, Antonio Brown and AJ Green. Getting top-10 value at any position at any point in the draft is a huge boost, and the impact those guys can have on your roster is increased exponentially if they were drafted later on or added as a free agent.
2020 will hold the same story, just like every other year. It’s inevitable that the projected top 10 wide receivers will not be accurately reflected at season’s end. It doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to draft one of the guys on this list and pass up on a more proven, reliable fantasy asset. But consider this a guide to some of the diamonds in the rough, or the names that are getting recognition, but not enough recognition and could realistically outperform expectations.
All draft data collected from Fantasy Pros PPR ADP rankings. All stats retrieved from Fantasy Pros and Pro Football Reference.
A.J. Green (ESPN: WR30 | Fantrax: WR 26)
Andy Dalton was a three-time Pro Bowler, so I’m not ready to jump on the “A.J. Green has never played with as good a quarterback as Joe Burrow train” in evaluating the WR’s fantasy stock this year. After all, Burrow is a rookie. He will eventually be much better than Dalton, or else he’ll be considered a major disappointment.
But Andy Dalton didn’t need to be all that good for A.J. Green to go off. Green posted seven straight Pro Bowl seasons, averaging nearly 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns per year over that span. He was on pace to do it again before an injury ended his 2018 season and kept him out for all of 2019. But, according to reports from coach Zac Taylor, he’s fully healthy and ready to go (via Sports Illustrated).
Over the same seven-year span in which Green dominated, Andy Dalton averaged around 3,650 yards and 24 touchdowns per season. Burrow’s over/under values, as projected by FanDuel, are currently set at 3,800 passing yards and 22.5 touchdowns. That seems to bode well for a successful bounce-back season and return to fantasy dominance for the 32-year-old Green, who can far surpass his draft value.
Anthony Miller (ESPN: WR65 | Fantrax: WR45)
There are some targets to be had in Chicago after Taylor Gabriel’s departure, and Miller seems like a probable candidate to get a boost because of this. Allen Robinson’s target share will be big, as per usual, but shouldn’t get much higher than the 154 it was last year, nor should Tarik Cohen’s 104 from 2019. No one in the slew of tight ends on the roster, including new addition Jimmy Graham or draft pick Cole Kmet, particular scares me, nor does the acquisition of Ted Ginn Jr.
It’s Miller, the second-round pick in 2018, that could finally enjoy his time to shine in the NFL. A more consistent role as the team’s undisputed No. 2 receiver should help his case. In games where he was on the field for 70% or more of the snaps -- there are 12 of them -- he’s totaled 58.83 yards per game and six touchdowns. Expanded over a full 16-game season, and you’ll see a fine stat line of 941 yards and eight scores.
Add in the fact that the quarterback play in Chicago can’t be much worse than it was in 2019, and could improve substantially if Nick Foles plays well, and you’ve got a fine candidate for a fantasy football steal.
Brandin Cooks (ESPN: WR37 | Fantrax: WR39)
Lost in the madness that came out of the Texans’ trade for David Johnson, their decision to ship out all-world receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and their subsequent trade for Brandin Cooks, is that Brandin Cooks is actually pretty good. Sure, the way Bill O’Brien maneuvered through the trades and sent draft picks this way and that way makes it an objectively bad move for Houston.
But for Cooks, the move to Houston could be a beneficial one. Cooks’ straight-line speed makes him a threat for the deep ball, and he consistently ranks among the top 20 receivers in average targeted air yards, a next-gen statistic that reveals who the NFL’s deep threats are. His teammate, Will Fuller, is someone else who is always among these leaderboards, but whose health keeps him out of games, seemingly more often than not. Cooks, who did miss two games last year and has dealt with concussion problems, hadn’t missed a game in the four seasons prior to 2019.
If he can stay on the field and quickly connect with Deshaun Watson, sparks should and will fly. Nick Shook of NFL.com listed Watson as the sixth-best deep ball passer in the league, noting that Watson attempted a deep pass with top-five regularity in 2019 and unlocked another dimension of his game when Fuller was available to take the top off the defense. With Cooks added to the corps as a potential No. 1 option, Cooks should get consistent looks and produce a high yards per reception average, making him an easy candidate for breaking 1,000 yards.
D.K. Metcalf (ESPN: WR29 | Fantrax: WR27)
If you didn’t witness Metcalf’s potential in 2019, Eagles fans can tell you all about it. He looked less like a rookie and more like an established, All-Pro veteran on Wild Card weekend. Seven catches and 160 yards later, Metcalf had stolen the show and asserted his dominance over the Philadelphia secondary, including a 36-yard deep ball reception that effectively ended the Eagles’ chances to win.
Metcalf’s record-setting playoff performance was a fantastic cap on what was an unexpectedly successful rookie season. He’s one of six receivers since 2015 to record 900 receiving yards as a rookie, joining a group that includes Michael Thomas, Amari Cooper and JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose second seasons and beyond all built upon their strong debuts.
We shouldn’t expect anything less from Metcalf, and though two other 2019 rookies were part of that group -- A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin -- neither one of them has as good a quarterback, and they both have a better ADP ranking than Metcalf (Brown: WR19, McLaurin: WR26). In my opinion, Metcalf should be the highest on this list. Even with his WR2 status, his offense presents the highest touchdown upside and his role figures to be a prominent one from the get go.
Darius Slayton (ESPN: WR49 | Fantrax: WR42)
2019 may have been especially friendly to Slayton’s fantasy production. After all, Saquon Barkley missed a few games, Sterling Shepard missed six, Golden Tate missed five, and Evan Engram watched from the sidelines the majority of the year. Thus, Slayton had an opportunity to develop and build chemistry with Daniel Jones, and he took advantage of that.
But even when some of those other players were on the field and involved in the game plan, Slayton prevailed. In Week 10, the rookie wideout exploded for 121 yards and two scores on 10 catches, garnering more targets than Golden Tate and Saquon Barkley combined. In Week 14, with Barkley, Shepard and Tate all active and available, Slayton led with eight targets and turned them into 154 yards and two scores.
The second half of Slayton’s 2019 campaign, just seven games, saw him reel in 31 balls for 467 yards and five scores. While you shouldn’t be ready to convert that sample size into a full 16-game season stat line, which would put him over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns, you should expect him to surpass his relatively low ADP.
Jalen Reagor (ESPN: WR52 | Fantrax: WR58)
I’m not so sure Reagor won’t be Carson Wentz’s leading wide receiver in 2019.
That statement is a little deceiving, considering Zach Ertz will probably lead the team in receiving yards and Miles Sanders will have another prominent role as a dual-threat running back. But in terms of how the TCU rookie stacks up with other wide receivers on the roster, anything is possible.
Philly’s prized first-round pick was almost undoubtedly going to be used on a receiver, and they had a very real opportunity to trade up for CeeDee Lamb, but opted not to. They had a chance to draft LSU’s Justin Jefferson, but opted not to. If they didn’t really, really like Reagor, they had all the reason and opportunity in the world to go in a different direction.
But they didn’t. Seeing as DeSean Jackson’s health is unreliable, as is Alshon Jeffery’s -- not to mention the alleged chemistry issues between him and Wentz -- the chance for Reagor to emerge as the team’s No. 1 WR is definitely there. The fact that Reagor is a similar receiver to D-Jax is also promising, as Wentz showed phenomenal chemistry with the speedy veteran wideout in a small sample size last year. It’s too intriguing a possibility to pass up, especially considering how late Reagor is falling in fantasy drafts.
My biggest fear is the depth of the team's receiving corps, as names like Greg Ward, Marquise Goodwin, and rookies John Hightower and Quez Watkins are all salivating for their chance to contribute. However, it makes more sense to me that these guys were brought on in case of the injury issues that plagued the team last year, and I don't see why they'd take away from Reagor's role.
Jarvis Landry (ESPN: WR25 | Fantrax: WR29)
A stat courtesy of Fantasy Pros’ Mike Tagliere helps to show why Landry should continue producing. Along with Mike Evans and Julio Jones, Landry is one of the three wide receivers who have ended the season within the top 24 in each of the last five seasons.
The white elephant in the room is that Odell Beckham Jr. is still in Cleveland and figures to outperform his disappointing debut with the Browns. Austin Hooper is in town. Kevin Stefanski is the head coach, meaning the run game could become more of an emphasis. Kareem Hunt will play a full season. Yada, yada, yada.
The fact of the matter is that all of the aforementioned impediments to Landry’s success could serve to help his fantasy value, in the sense that I expect his draft value to be even lower than it is now come July and August. We’ll hear about how Baker Mayfield is getting his connection synced up with Hooper, how Hunt looks better than ever, how OBJ is ready to set records.
And Landry will remain, quietly producing as always. At least there’s someone else like me, who knows that the veteran will continue producing.
John Brown (ESPN: WR48 | Fantrax: WR37)
Brown’s target share will not be as large as it was in 2019, when he saw 115 targets from QB Josh Allen as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. But his role, in all likelihood, won’t change that drastically. He’s still a deep threat first and foremost, and the addition of Stefon Diggs should only help to take attention away from Brown.
The addition of Stefon Diggs will also be what ultimately makes fantasy players afraid of selecting Brown. You can see that in his ADP as the 48th wide receiver selected in ESPN drafts, despite finishing as a top-20 wide receiver in 2019. Do I expect him to capture another 1,000-yard season? No, though it’s not out of the question considering Josh Allen almost produced two 1,000-yard receivers last year with Brown and Cole Beasley (778 yards). He was a 1,000-yard receiver in Arizona in 2015, serving as the team’s third receiver in some cases behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
More importantly: do I expect him to put up a better stat line than 576 yards and three touchdowns? Yes.
Those statistics were Sterling Shepard’s from 2019, who finished as the No. 48 receiver. For Brown to be drafted behind 47 other receivers, in my eyes, is unreasonable.
Marvin Jones (ESPN: WR34 | Fantrax: WR38)
Every year, Marvin Jones is undervalued. Every single year, and it never fails to confuse me.
Since joining Detroit in 2016, he’s posted numbers at a 16-game rate of 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns. Yes, he misses some time with injuries fairly often, but the reason you have a bench in fantasy is so that you can sit an injured player for a week and ensure you don’t get a goose egg from him. In my mind, fantasy points per game is a more important statistic for someone you’re drafting as a flex option.
When Jones is healthy, he’s better than a flex option. He’s a WR2 option every week. He’s not behind 33 other receivers. In fact, he hasn’t been outside the top 30 wide receivers in fantasy points per game in any of the past three seasons, reaching a peak as the No. 12 overall receiver in 2017. This guy can single-handedly win a week for you, too. He’s had two games in his career where he’s scored four touchdowns.
Yet he’ll still be undervalued in drafts. With a healthy Matthew Stafford, 2020 is another great season to grab the perennially underrated fantasy asset.
Michael Pittman Jr. (ESPN: WR59 | Fantrax: WR64)
T.Y. Hilton is undoubtedly the No. 1 receiver in Indy, but could the No. 2 slot really be given to a rookie right away? I don’t see why not. Looking at the roster, the contenders are Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal. Campbell, a 2019 second rounder, didn’t see the field much last year in what he called a “taxing” rookie season, so he could be in store for a breakout. Pascal was fine if a little boring last season, achieving over 600 yards. Jack Doyle will attract some targets, and his production could see a boost given Rivers’ propensity for targeting tight ends.
So Pittman’s path to a successful rookie season isn’t without its obstacles. However, he has the biggest frame of an Indy receiver, practically identical to that of Mike Williams, which should bode well given Rivers’ recent history with Williams. Last season, Williams led the NFL with 20.4 yards per catch. The year prior, he was one of nine receivers to record double digit touchdowns.
Either of those is possible for Pittman, whose 36.5 vertical wowed scouts at the combine, and beat out Williams’ combine figure by four inches.