The 2020 NFL Draft was heralded as the best wide receiver class in recent history. It says something as well when this year’s class had the most wide receivers taken since 2003. There are a lot of players that demand your attention when it comes to fantasy football. This is part one of a dive into some of the bigger names at wide receiver and whether they hold any fantasy value for the upcoming season.
The Newest Crop Of Fantasy Football Rookie WRs: Part 1
Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders got a little nostalgic with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. With an homage to the late Al Davis, the Raiders drafted the wide receiver that posted the best time during the NFL Combine’s, 40-yard sprint. Ruggs was one of the top receivers debated during the offseason but not many predicted that he would be the first receiver taken in the draft. While speed kills, he is not as well-rounded a receiver as some of the other prospects in the draft. Still, Ruggs can straight burn opposing defenses and should be fun to watch at the professional level.
So having excellent speed can be great in the NFL, but you need to have a quarterback who can throw a good deep ball. Derek Carr is not the definition of a guy who likes to air it out long. Last season Carr averaged 6.9 intended air yards per pass attempt, which was one of the worst in the NFL. Carr is more suited to throwing the short and intermediate routes and then having the receiver run after the catch. If this trend continues, Ruggs may not see many options going deep and will need to work on his route tree.
While he is skilled at getting open, the experience difference between the college game and the professional game is vast. If Ruggs can figure out how to get open on the shorter routes, then we may see some good production in his rookie year. Still, his speed is a threat and should be taken into account for all opposing defenses.
So Ruggs has good value in redraft leagues and higher value in dynasty leagues. If the Raiders decide to move on from Carr down the road, then Ruggs will be matched with a quarterback who can get him the ball deep. Until then, it limits Ruggs’ potential in his first season or two in the NFL. He will see immediate targets in the offense, as he will be paired up with Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams as starting receivers.
Williams is also a deep threat and he might eat into Ruggs’ targets, but it won’t be a huge concern considering the draft capital used to get Ruggs. Ruggs has the most talent compared to anyone in the receiving crew and should see his number called more often than not. The key thing that may limit his value is just the probability of sending him on deep routes with the limitations at the quarterback position. If Carr or even new back-up quarterback, Marcus Mariota, can find a way to get the ball deep, then Ruggs has more value.
Draft Ruggs to your roster, but he doesn’t warrant being a fantasy starter just yet. He holds low-end FLEX value based on the match-up, but we need to see how the offense uses him. As the season moves along, he could earn a call-up to your starting roster. As of now, keep the speedster on your bench and cross your fingers Carr has perfected his deep ball during the quarantine.
Projected Stat-line: 35/601/4 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
It’s no secret that Drew Lock is the future of the franchise at quarterback, so the Broncos went out and selected an excellent wide receiver to pair with him for years to come. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers trading picks to select non-wide receivers, Jeudy just fell into the lap of the Denver Broncos. Jeudy was arguably the best receiver in this year’s draft and the Broncos were able to scoop him up without having to move up from their 15th overall slot. He’s going to be a star in the league and many are picking him as a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
So while the Broncos already had a premier receiver in Courtland Sutton, the support behind him was subpar. Early in the season, they did have Emmanuel Sanders, but he was shipped off to San Francisco six weeks into the season, right at the trade deadline. After that, it was a role filled by DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick. While they were good players, they didn’t scare defenses enough to warrant not double-teaming Sutton on the other side.
Jeudy will come in and become the starter opposite of Sutton on day one. Hamilton and Patrick will provide good depth at the position behind both starters.
Jeudy hopes to follow in the same path as other former Alabama wide receivers that found success in their rookie years. Calvin Ridley led all rookie receivers in all receiving stats back in 2018. Amari Cooper did the same thing and also crossed the 1,000-yard receiving mark, which helped earn him a Pro Bowl selection. Julio Jones was dynamic in his rookie year back in 2011, as he led all rookie receivers in receiving touchdowns. Jeudy is very much in the same class as all these players and should find immediate success in the NFL.
Jeudy landed in a perfect spot for fantasy purposes. The only thing that could hurt his value is if Lock ends up struggling under center. While Lock looked great in the limited action he had at the end of the 2019 season, we need to see if he can build off of that heading into the future. He has the tools around him and the front office is making sure Lock is in the best position to succeed.
This makes me confident that Jeudy is a great starting receiver for your fantasy roster. He may not be the main starter, but he definitely has second or third level appeal instantly, as well as strong FLEX appeal. The Broncos are hoping the addition of Jeudy can bring this team back to the playoffs and compete in a now ruthless AFC West division. While the Chiefs are the reigning Super Bowl champions, the addition of Jeudy is going to make things a lot tougher for them to repeat.
Projected Stat-line: 57/845/6 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
Similar to Jeudy for the Broncos, Lamb slid down the draft and ended up a Dallas Cowboy. While there were other positions that might have needed filling, with Lamb on the board it was smart to snatch him up for the offense. While the Cowboys have two great young receivers in Cooper and Michael Gallup, Lamb has a chance to give this offense another playmaker in the receiving group.
While some may wonder about how Lamb fits into the Dallas offense, his skill set can translate into any offensive scheme. Dallas was airing it out constantly as they were ranked 10th in passing attempts, tied for 5th in passing touchdowns, and 2nd in passing yards. This is part of the reason that the Cowboys also led the league in total yards from scrimmage.
This offense is electric and Lamb is just going to add more juice to it. While Cooper and Gallup will line up on the outside, Lamb should see the majority of his work come from the slot. He will inherit the role formerly held by Cole Beasley and more recently, Randall Cobb.
New head coach Mike McCarthy has had his fair share of good receivers when he was the coach of the Green Bay Packers. As a matter of fact, he coached Cobb and should see the same if not better production from Lamb in a similar role.
Also, with not as much talent at the tight end position for Dallas, the Cowboys could see themselves lining up in a ton of three-wide receiver sets and that would increase targets for all three receivers.
Lamb has great fantasy appeal and is sure to be a starter in all fantasy formats. Even with a stud running back like Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, the passing offense should still flourish and allow Lamb to see a healthy amount of targets. This is even fine with the transition in coaching philosophy for Lamb.
He is coming from a wide-open, Air-Raid, style attack at the University of Oklahoma to an offense based on the West Coast philosophy. McCarthy will leverage the knowledge of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, but it will still rely on short routes being converted into long gains after the catch. This will suit Lamb as he has the ability to make long gains on short catches and is a yards-after-the-catch machine.
Lamb should be rostered in all leagues but with Cooper and Gallup garnering the majority of the targets, Lamb might not see a ton to make him a fantasy starter. He could be a good FLEX option early in the season and a good match-up based start during the season, but don’t waste a high-pick to draft him. Draft him towards the double-digit rounds and he’ll give you superb value.
Projected Stat-line: 49/617/3 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles
It’s mind-boggling to think that no wide receiver for Philadelphia accumulated either 50 receptions, 500 receiving yards, or five receiving touchdowns. Alshon Jeffery came close to these stats, but it still says something when your number one receiver was close but not able to cross that mark. The Eagles receiving corps was decimated by injuries and this led to no one achieving this mark. Reagor was added to the offense along with a bunch of other receivers in hopes of curing this problem.
Speed is the name of the game for the Philadelphia offense. They acquired Marquise Goodwin from the 49ers during the draft and then, of course, drafted Reagor with their first-round pick.
Later in the draft, they added Quez Watkins and John Hightower, who were burners at their respective schools. This is going to be a deep-threat offense and Miles Sanders shows good speed coming out of the backfield.
All this speed is going to be combined with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert at the tight end position. Ertz is the primary receiver in this offense and the other cast of characters will supplement his production now. The addition of Reagor is great, but a lot of people were surprised the Eagles went with him with Justin Jefferson still on the board. Reagor is going to hopefully become a speed threat to the extent that DeSean Jackson was. Jackson is still on the team and will offer guidance to the young receivers in hope of having similar success as he did in his rookie year.
Reagor is going to be a very volatile pick for fantasy purposes. He could very well become a similar player to Jackson and we won’t question his fantasy value. The thing to note is that there were a lot of other weapons added to this offense and he might not see enough targets to become a fantasy-relevant player in his rookie year.
Sanders emerged as a great running back towards the end of the year and Ertz is the focal point of the passing attack. While the draft capital will lead to him getting a good amount of targets early, it will be interesting to see if he can make the most of them. His speed is great, but he doesn’t strike me as the guy who can make the transition to the NFL as easily as Jackson might have.
Great potential for the long-term, but for redraft leagues, it’s best to take the more cautious approach. Let Reagor go to another fantasy owner in the draft or of course, add him to your watch list, should he go undrafted.
Projected Stat-line: 38/475/2 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings rushed the fourth-most in the NFL last season. This might be part of the reason that Stefon Diggs became expendable, as he was traded to Buffalo prior to the draft. It might also be a sign that the Vikings want to become more of a run-first team and lean on Dalvin Cook to generate yards for them. They still have Adam Thielen and they just signed Tajae Sharpe, who is a dependable secondary receiver. When the first ended though, the Vikings welcomed Jefferson into the fold as their newest receiver. This might be because the previous 21 picks didn’t see his name being called and a player of his ability was too hard to pass up.
Jefferson will step into the role that was vacated by Diggs, as aforementioned, he was traded to the Bills one month before the draft. Jefferson was a part of the National Champion LSU Tigers and was a big part of the historic offense. His contributions led to him being a first-round pick, but it might hurt him as he transitions to the NFL.
The offense ran at LSU had him open numerous times and he was able to take advantage of that and rack up the numbers. Once he comes into the NFL, the offense run by Minnesota is not going to be as wide open as it was back in college. The Vikings are now trotting out their third offensive coordinator in three years. Last year, Kevin Stefanski used a more run-based approach, and new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak uses a similar approach. During his 22 years of coaching, Kubiak had an offense that was top-10 in passing attempts just seven times. His offense was top-10 in rushing attempts eleven times and twice at 11th.
So even with the addition of Jefferson, there is no guarantee that he will see anything close to the numbers he saw back at LSU. It could be a season or two before he becomes a more dependable fantasy option. He is a great dynasty addition as his long-term potential is great. For redraft leagues, it’s a little lower but if Thielen were to lose any time to injury as he did in 2019, then Jefferson is a great option to start in his place.
A high-end handcuff like Jefferson is always worth drafting, especially at receiver where he will still see a moderate amount of targets per game. Consider Jefferson a middling FLEX player and if he ends up flashing the same separation abilities as he did in college, that could vault him into starting receiver territory. For now, draft Jefferson in a double-digit round of your draft and he could pay off if the Vikings lose Thielen to more injuries in 2020.
Projected Stat-line: 50/551/4 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers entered the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft with two selections. Many thought that a premier wide receiver was on tap for the 13th or 31st overall selections. The 13th pick ended up becoming the 14th pick and they selected defensive lineman, Javon Kinlaw. The 31st pick did land them a receiver, but was leveraged with some other picks and actually became the 25th pick.
Aiyuk was highly coveted by the 49ers’ front office and head coach Kyle Shanahan. He mentioned after the draft weekend that it was between Aiyuk and Lamb, but they played the draft board well and ended up with Aiyuk at 25.
With the loss of Sanders from the offense, the 49ers needed to find another dynamic receiver to pair up with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. The team has a lot of inexperienced players and players returning from injury that could come in and fill the role and push Aiyuk for targets.
Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor have shown flashes of being good receivers but were hampered with injuries to start their careers. Kendrick Bourne has been in this system the longest (since 2017) but has yet to fully break out and become a second or third reliable option in the offense. Don’t forget about Dante Pettis who looked like a promising star in his rookie year, but has since ended up in Shanahan’s dog house and has yet to resurface as a solid contributor.
So Aiyuk is in the best position to see the most targets, but it wouldn’t be surprising for Shanahan to rotate players on the opposite of Samuel and find the best players for the situations that arise during the course of the game.
Aiyuk is a player that some compared to Samuel, who already has shown he’s a great fit for the offense in San Francisco. Aiyuk is great at taking short routes and turning them into long gains; a true yards-after-the-catch monster. He’s also valuable in the return game and is a fast, natural, receiver. The only problem that will hurt his fantasy stock is the number of players vying for that second receiver spot.
Aiyuk looks to have the lead, but all the other guys will fight and claw their way to earn targets in this offense. Also, let’s not forget that the 49ers were only behind the Ravens when it came to rushing attempts and rushing yards. They like to pound the ball and then set-up an effective play-action passing scheme off of that. So while Aiyuk is a great fit for the offense, he might not see enough targets to become a reliable fantasy player. It might be a situation where he is a great NFL addition, but not so much a fantasy addition.
He has a good shot at gaining more value for dynasty leagues, but for redraft, it might be best to be more cautious. He is worth a draft towards the end of your draft, but let’s see who ends up getting the most targets behind Kittle and Samuel before crowning Aiyuk as a bonafide rookie fantasy star.
Projected Stat-line: 30/437/3 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
Well when you draft a quarterback number one overall, you had better make sure he has enough weapons to succeed. Higgins was taken at the top of the second round and will give Joe Burrow another receiver to throw to. Higgins will join ranks with Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green to give this Bengals offense a trio of good receivers to work with. Plus, Green is looking forward to mentoring the young receiver in a similar fashion to when Green was taken under the wing of veteran Chad Johnson.
So what does Higgins bring to this offense? While Green is the number one option, he’s been battling injuries the past couple seasons and his dependability might be in question going forward. While on the field, he is completely reliable, but the times he is on the field might become less frequent. So the Bengals started to become reliant on Boyd and he has delivered. Even if Green ends up missing a lot of time again in 2020, Boyd has filled in admirably as the number one receiver. Pair him with Higgins and this passing offense could be dynamic again, as long as Burrow has the time to throw.
Cincinnati also has speedster, John Ross, on the roster still, but his availability is usually in question as well. Regardless, Ross will not be pushing Higgins for playing time as their skill sets are completely different. Expect Higgins to come in day one and provide another solid option on the outside.
With the selection of Higgins, Boyd will most likely move to the slot, and Green will line up on the other side. This should give Burrow a plethora of weapons and could lead to a sneaky good passing offense for fantasy owners to be aware of.
Higgins has great value in redraft leagues and has even better value for dynasty drafts. If you target Higgins towards the back-end of your draft, you could see some good return based on the draft position. Higgins may take a little time to adjust to the NFL level, but he holds some middling FLEX value right off the bat. He could slowly work his way into a starting position but it hinges on how much time Green will miss. If Green is restricted from seeing the field because of injuries, then Higgins’ value increases and could be a great sleeper pick for your roster. Either way, Higgins is a safe bet in the later parts of your fantasy draft.
Projected Stat-line: 45/576/4 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
Philip Rivers is now a member of the Colts and has reunited with head coach, Frank Reich. Reich coached Rivers as a quarterbacks coach and also an offensive coordinator back with the Chargers. He jumped at the opportunity to upgrade at quarterback and balance out his offense a little more. This offensive line will keep Rivers upright and should be able to get him more than enough time to find his receivers. The receivers were hindered by injuries last season as Zach Pascal is the only wide receiver that played all 16 games in 2019. Indianapolis clearly needed to upgrade and brought in Pittman Jr. with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Pittman Jr. is a big-bodied receiver that plays faster than he’s built. Coming into Indianapolis, he should have the inside track to earning a good share of targets. While T.Y. Hilton was productive in his 10 games last season, he had nagging injuries that led to him having his first sub-50 reception season. In fact, there was no player that went over that mark and that is troubling to realize.
While they do enjoy running the ball and are built that way, Reich enjoyed having a good passing game with Rivers back with the Chargers and also during his time in Philadelphia. Bringing in Pittman Jr. will provide this offense with a number one type player to fill in, in case Hilton is forced to miss more time this coming season. Pittman Jr. will not be the only one as he’ll compete with Pascal and 2019 second-round pick, Parris Campbell, for those targets at the second receiver position.
Pittman Jr. has good value in all types of leagues. His long-term potential for dynasty leagues makes him a little more valuable in dynasty leagues compared to redraft leagues. In 2020, he should be met with a good dose of targets, but the competition for those targets curb his fantasy value.
Also, this team was top-10 in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns, which will further hurt his rookie season fantasy value. They added the talented Jonathan Taylor to this run game and he will combine with Marlon Mack to form a formidable 1-2 punch from the backfield.
Pittman Jr. should be added to your roster towards the back-end of your draft and he should be stashed on your bench. Once we see Pittman Jr. separate himself from the pack, you can promptly add him to your starting roster. A good fit for an offense with the need for more quality playmakers in the passing game.
Projected Stat-line: 52/587/5 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
There are going to be some changes to the Jacksonville Jaguars offense. Out is offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, and in comes Jay Gruden. Nick Foles is no longer the quarterback of the Jaguars as they are seeing what Gardner Minshew can do in his second season. There’s also a possibility that Leonard Fournette will not be on the team past the 2020 season. With all these changes, it’s going to be hard to wrangle a good idea on how this offense will operate. The addition of Shenault Jr. is going to add to that wonderment.
Shenault Jr. had a great year at the University of Colorado in 2018, which led to him being highly touted going into 2019. His 2019 campaign was not as productive as a receiver, but he was used as a running back and also a Wildcat quarterback. Shenault Jr. is a versatile player and it will be intriguing to see him in an offense that doesn’t have a clear cut offensive weapon.
Fournette was that player, but his level of play is starting to come into question and leads to the reasoning as to why he might be sent out of town. The leading receiver last season was D.J. Chark who went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Chark and Dede Westbrook look to be the top two receivers in the offense and Keelan Cole will serve as a rotation piece.
Shenault Jr. will see the field early in his career, but his injury concerns are something to be wary about. He missed nine games during his college career and while that may not be a lot, the majority of those came after his productive sophomore season that led to him putting up numbers lower than what we could have anticipated.
So if he can put all those injury concerns behind him in the NFL, then Shenault Jr. could see great value in PPR leagues. He will be used in multiple ways and could see a heavy amount of touches in the offense. The Jaguars could hope that he becomes a similar player to Samuel in San Francisco. The opposite could happen where he turns into a Tavon Austin type of player that is a decent NFL asset but a terrible fantasy asset.
The inconsistency of production will make him an unreliable option to have on your roster and possible starting lineup. For now, it’s better if Shenault Jr. goes undrafted in redraft leagues as we just don’t know what his role will be at the next level. If he stays at wide receiver only, then he could develop into a great option for Minshew and the passing game. If they rotate him all over the place and he becomes a jack-of-all-trades, then his fantasy stock will drop surprisingly. Let someone else have the headache of figuring out whether he’s worth starting or not.
Projected Stat-line: 30/258/2 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns) and 35/217/1 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns)
KJ Hamler, Denver Broncos
While Jeudy landing in Denver is a godsend for fantasy football fans, Hamler is not quite at that level. While he will be a great receiver in this offense, there are too many other players looking for targets that will make Hamler the odd man out. He certainly will be a stretch-the-field type of player and will bring a good home run threat to the passing game. The unfortunate thing will be that his number of targets will be low and that his only hope of generating more targets is becoming more than a speed threat. This is something that is a bit of a big ask, considering his small size and the competition above him.
Hamler has some good value in dynasty leagues, but his redraft league value is pretty low. It’s best to let him fall into the waiver pool and just keep an eye on if any injuries make Hamler worth scooping up.
Jeudy and Sutton are the main players to target in this passing offense for wide receivers. Hamler will be a good NFL addition for the Broncos, but fantasy players should steer away from picking him up unless he shows us production worth stashing him on our bench. There are just so many weapons in Denver now for the passing game and Hamler’s projected target share will not justify drafting him in any type of fantasy redraft league.
Projected Stat-line: 25/390/1 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)