Fantasy Football Sleepers – Wide Receivers – 2020
JuJu Smith-Schuster – Pittsburgh Steelers
The rise and fall of Smith-Schuster happened in the blink of an eye. After a great year as the Steelers number one wide receiver in his second season, Smith-Schuster was the bust of the year in 2019. Ben Roethlisberger went down week two and so did the Pittsburgh pass game. Finding a competent starting quarterback is hard enough but filling the backup role with someone who can take over seamlessly is next to impossible. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges couldn’t fill the role and Smith-Schuster was rendered unstartable and untradeable. Game over!
If your league waits until the last moment to draft, then examining Roethlisberger’s preseason games is a must. If the elbow seems healthy and his balls have the usual zip, then proceed with Smith-Schuster without concern. As with every early round bust it’s tough to pull the trigger on draft day, but these are the kind of calls that win and lose fantasy championships. I’ll be looking to snag Smith-Schuster a bit earlier than others and get 1st round wide receiver talent in the 5th or 6th.
Don’t forget to check out our other Fantasy Football Sleepers!
Jarvis Landry – Cleveland Browns
Landry was expected to take a backseat to Beckham Jr in the 2019 season, but someone forget to tell him. Landry had a career high 1,174 receiving yards and tallied 6 TD’s, the second highest season total in his career so far. The chemistry developed in Mayfield’s rookie season was apparent as Landry was often the first target in the progression. Unfortunately, Mayfield’s inability to hit open receivers on the numbers meant an easy 2 lost receptions a game. In Miami, Landry’s reception to target conversion rate was around 70%, in two years in Cleveland, he barely reached 60%. Do you believe Landry is suddenly dropping more passes?
The 2020 outlook, with the Mayfield bashing I’ve admittedly done, is quite positive for Landry. The Cleveland passing focuses on two wide receivers, Landry and Beckham. The third and fourth players on the receiving list last season were Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Austin Hooper will undoubtedly consume some targets, but I suspect that’ll be more of a consolidation of the merry go round of low-end receivers than stealing from the top two. Volume can overcome errant passes and busted drives from turnovers. If Landry can reach the rock, he will catch it and he’ll be a solid #2 WR or a steal as your #3.
DJ Chark Jr. – Jacksonville Jaguars
Chark Jr (not Clark!) burst onto the scene in 2019 after a forgettable rookie season. The second-round pick from LSU has great hands and uses his lean 6’4” frame to his advantage to consistently box out smaller defensive backs. He makes it look easy to snag those lofty deep balls from fellow youngster Gardner Minshew II. Chark Jr quickly became a favorite option as he led the team with 118 targets and 8 TD’s.
The 2020 outlook is nothing but positive. The Jaguars have only four main receiving targets but Chark Jr does the most with each reception. He converts 62% of his targets with 13.8 yards per catch. Fellow castmate Chris Conley had his share of targets as well but only converted 52%. The overwhelming bulk of targets go to Chark Jr, Conley and Westbrook at the wide receiver position. This is fantasy positive as there are no wasted receptions by wide receivers who have no chance of being a fantasy starter. Chark Jr is the best overall package with high targets, high reception conversion rate and endzone targets. He easily fits into a #2 WR category this season.
Tyler Lockett – Seattle Seahawks
Lockett is quietly becoming one of the more reliable fantasy wide receivers in the NFL. He appears to be Russell Wilson’s favorite target and with good reason. Lockett converts his targets almost 75% of the time. He’s a great route runner and knows how to get open, which led to his first 1,000-yard season in 2019. He also added 8 TD’s to go along with a weekly average of close to 10 fantasy points.
The Seahawks mix and match the pass and run game evenly but unlike many other teams, there are only two primary wide receiver targets. His counterpart, DK Metcalf almost evenly split targets last season and no offseason moves would lead us to believe that will change. Philip Dorsett II will more likely consolidate targets from an assorted list of #3 to #6 receivers last season rather than eat into Lockett or Metcalf’s opportunities. The later rounds in the fantasy draft is where some fantasy teams get lucky and other do research. Lockett fits well as #2 fantasy wide receiver, and if you can get him as a #3 or flex position player, then you’re on your way to the fantasy playoffs.
Tyrell Williams – Las Vegas Raiders
Williams was thrust into the number one receiving position after the Antonio Brown fiasco, a role that he’s not really suited for. He is a big target at 6’4” and has a huge catch range. Over his career, Willams has put up #3 fantasy wide receiver stats, averaging 677 yards and 5 TD’s over the last three years.
Nevertheless, Williams will go into this season as a primary target. Darren Waller emerged at the tight end position and led the team in yards, but Williams topped all teammates with 6 TD’s. Our hope is that Williams can warrant #2 wide receiver numbers with 800-1,000 yards and 6-8 TD’s, that’s worthy of a roster spot on a rising offense.
Tee Higgins – Cincinnati Bengals
After selecting Joe Burrow with the 1st pick in the NFL draft, the Bengals followed up by getting him a shiny new toy in wide receiver Tee Higgins in the 2nd. Higgins is a prototypical NFL wide receiver at 6’4” 216 pounds with good speed and great hands. He weaves through traffic after the catch and wins the 50/50 ball more often than not. Higgins will lineup across from A.J. Green and will receive plenty of targets starting day one. If things go South with A.J. Green, then Higgins could find himself as the #1 wide out with enough volume to make up for the inevitable struggles the two rookies will endure.
Henry Ruggs III – Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden was almost giddy when Henry Ruggs III fell to the Raiders in the first round. Ruggs III smaller than your prototypical wide receiver but sturdy at 6’0” 190-pounds. What’s most impressive was that he scored on 25% of the passes he caught at Alabama. With 4.27 speed it’s not surprising he can take any reception to house.
The Raiders wide receiver crew is a collection of misfits with Tyrell Williams as the lead dog, veteran Nelson Agholor and Hunter Renfro in the slot. Ruggs III could easily assume a starting role right out of camp and has a good chance for some fantasy value this season, but no higher than a #3. The real question is if that Old Spice robe he was wearing on draft night makes the trip to Las Vegas.
Adam Thielen – Minnesota Vikings
Thielen has been upping his game year after year since he came into the league with reliable 16 games seasons and increasing receiving yards. He is a savvy route runner who feasts on inexperienced corners while working the entire field. Last season was the first chink in Thielen’s armor as he battled a hamstring injury. The end of the regular season was riddled with missed games and part time plays which hurt fantasy owners at the most important time.
The good news is Thielen recovered well enough to participate and perform at a high level in the NFC playoffs. There should be no hangover coming into this season. He will be far and away the top Vikings receiver with a massive amount of volume. He averaged 148 targets in the two seasons before last year and you can expect more of the same in 2020.