Three Candidates To Be The Next Great Fantasy Football Wide Receivers
We are in a rather transitionary time in fantasy football compared to the stasis that has existed for the last 10 years or so. Some of the biggest names at the quarterback position are retiring or entering their post-peak years. There is hardly any backfields left where only one running back is responsible for a majority of the touches but for our purposes today: wide receiver is vastly different.
2019 was one of the lowest scoring years at the high-end of wide receiver in recent memory. Only one wide receiver (Michael Thomas) topped 20 PPR points per game. Only 25 players in total scored more than 200 PPR points and only eight players topped 250 PPR points. The bar for a successful WR season was lower than usual but mostly, we just saw less dominant performances.
Julio Jones aging, Odell Beckham playing through injury, Davante Adams getting hurt, Tyreek Hill being injured, Juju Smith-Schuster falling off the face of the fantasy Earth, Antonio Brown not playing, Adam Thielen getting hurt, Keenan Allen leveling off, all of these point to one over-arching conclusion: the wide receiver position is more in flux than it has been in years past. Outside of Thomas and Chris Godwin, there is a lack of young, in-their-prime studs who can point to without warts.
So this leads us to the pretty obvious question: who is up next? It is in the range of outcomes that the wide receiver position will just see flatter scoring as teams distribute their targets more evenly (as they pass more overall) but it seems potentially more likely that we saw an odd year and that it is time for younger players to fill in the gaps at the top.
A.J Brown and D.J Moore are excluded from this list, as they are already obvious stars at wide receiver and are being drafted accordingly
The Potential Wide Receiver Breakout Candidates
It might be cheating a little bit to include Sutton on this list as he is already being drafted rather highly but the discussion around him is not the same as it is for the aforementioned studs, A.J Brown and D.J Moore. Sutton is also about to turn 25, so he is on a different developmental curve than what we think of as “young” wide receivers but his sophomore season paints the picture of a player who is ready for stardom. With the combination of Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen and rookie Drew Lock at the helm, Sutton scored six times and gained over 1,100 yards on 124 targets.
Andre Johnson’s 2004 second-year effort was very similar to Sutton’s sophomore season. Both had six touchdowns, between 70-79 receptions, less than nine yards per target, and were within 30 receiving yards of each other. This season from 15 years ago doesn’t prove anything but that hyper-linked list of comparables showed to me that there is a historical precedent for a 24-year old breakout season at wide receiver still being a net positive rather than more of an outlier.
What we have with Sutton is: an unquestioned #1 wide receiver who vastly outproduced his other young teammates on a bad Broncos team, young enough to have not hit athletic prime and will likely have the best QB play of his career this upcoming season if in fact, Drew Lock proves to be even an average NFL QB.
Hardman is my personal favorite from this list because it should be mostly unexpected. Hardman had only 60 total receptions in college and was at best a part-time player as a rookie. He scored seven total touchdowns (including a kick return) but was targeted only 41 times and had as many games with multiple receptions as he did with one or fewer. So how is he a potential superstar? Didn’t he just run hot on touchdowns?
One of the things we have learned from researching prospects over the last few years is that a high touchdown rate as a rookie is actually a HUGE positive indicator. We can theorize this for a few reasons but the simplest one is probably: scoring touchdowns is really hard and players that create touchdowns on limited touches are likely really talented players who have room to grow as opposed to room to regress. Hardman’s actual TD rates will decline but the odds are that he is a more talented player than even the Chiefs believed when they drafted him and he has room to get better in their system.
So players like Hardman who were surprisingly high draft picks, surprisingly productive in limited playing time and who have a muddied path to CERTAIN future playing time are often a little underrated by the market. Do not underrate the potential of a 4.35 40 with expanded playing time in an offense with Patrick Mahomes.
Going back to 2010, there have been only 31 wide receivers aged 22 or younger to be targeted 100 or more times. One of the things we know about football performance is just that getting on the field at a young age and performing is one of the surest indicators of future performance. On the converse, we know that younger players who struggle to get on the field as rookies have a much worst list of comps.
The closest comp to Metcalf’s 2019 is Chris Godwin’s 2018. Metcalf was targeted 100 times to Godwin’s 95. Metcalf averaged 9.00 yards per target to Godwin’s 8.86. Godwin scored seven times, Metcalf scored seven times. Both were between 840 and 900 receiving yards. This is a pretty consistent comparison across the board and makes me even higher on Metcalf than I was when I started this article.
Metcalf has very few physical comps, is tied to an elite quarterback and there is always the threat that the Seahawks might actually start to pass the ball at a league-average rate which would make Metcalf’s numbers even gaudier than they were as a rookie.