Evaluating the 2019 WR Draft Class (Fantasy Football)
As I immerse myself deeper and deeper into dynasty leagues, I find myself evaluating fantasy football from a bigger picture point of view. But I’m not just doing this to try to improve as a dynasty player. I believe these kinds of exercises can help us grow as fantasy players of all formats – redraft, best ball, DFS, etc. because they allow us to better project and predict career breakout seasons.
In a three-part series, I’m comparing all first-year players over the past three seasons in receiving yards per game. All players that hit at least 20 yards per game are listed in the below table. I’m evaluating notable players from all three years separately. See my breakdown of the 2017 class and the 2018 class.
I’m discussing trends and how I see values heading into 2020. All ADPs were gathered from FFPC Best Ball Classic drafts over the past two weeks. Some notable players that didn’t make the 20 receiving yards per game cut will also be addressed. Now let’s break down the 2019 class:[lptw_table id=”163619″ style=”default”]
Notable 2019 Players That Make The List
This list helps show just how incredible the 2019 rookie WR class was. And A.J. Brown not only leads all 2019 rookie WRs in this category but all rookie WRs over the past three years. Brown is a jacked-up alpha WR who entered the league with a 90th-percentile Speed Score according to Player Profiler after posting consecutive seasons of over 1,250 receiving yards at Ole Miss.
Brown became just one of three players in the league last season to post over 1,000 receiving yards on less than 100 targets joining Stefon Diggs and Mike Williams. In fact, Pro Football Reference has target data dating back to 1992. Since that time, A.J. Brown has posted the seventh-highest receiving yards season for all players with 100 or fewer targets. He racked up 1,051 receiving yards on only 84 targets, finishing with 450 more receiving yards than anyone else on the Titans.
Now entering year two and having already proven himself in college and the NFL, Brown’s target total should undoubtedly rise in 2020. He’s a locked-in top 10 dynasty WR moving forward. His current fourth-round (45.4) redraft ADP sounds about right as well.
McLaurin ranks second on this list out of all rookie WRs over the past three seasons. He was so fun to watch last year and it was certainly a pleasant surprise since McLaurin only racked up 1,251 receiving yards throughout his entire collegiate career. Despite limited production at Ohio State, McLaurin tested off the charts, posting a 98th-percentile 40-yard dash and a 95th-percentile Speed Score according to Player Profiler.
McLaurin had 919 receiving yards on only 93 targets last season and finished with 541 more receiving yards than anyone else on Washington. Antonio Gibson and Antonio Gandy-Golden were brought in to upgrade the weapons around Dwayne Haskins but neither is significant enough to affect McLaurin’s standing as the clear-cut WR1 on the team.
McLaurin is a fantastic asset to own in dynasty and I’ll take his early sixth-round (61) ADP in redraft all day.
Metcalf also ranks top five in this category out of all rookie WRs over the past three seasons. Similar to Terry McLaurin, Metcalf didn’t have a stellar collegiate career. He only produced 1,228 receiving yards in three seasons before entering the draft. Yet he tested out of his mind at the NFL Combine, posting a 99th-percentile 40-yard dash, 99th-percentile Speed Score, and 97th-percentile Burst Score according to Player Profiler. And let’s remember Metcalf is humungous, standing 6′ 3″ at 228 pounds.
That size and athleticism, paired with Russell Wilson in an offense with targets up for grabs, proved to be a fantastic combination. As a raw rookie, Metcalf competed with Tyler Lockett to be Seattle’s WR1, finishing with 900 yards on 100 targets. Metcalf is an exciting asset in dynasty and redraft. However, Metcalf’s redraft ADP is now in the fifth-round (56). That’s a bit too rich for me, especially since he has now surpassed Tyler Lockett. Lockett is my guy and still the WR1 in Seattle.
Samuel suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot on June 16th and reportedly had surgery on June 18th. This puts the first half of the 2020 season in question for Deebo. So what do we do with him? Let’s evaluate him here for some added context. Samuel ranks sixth in this metric out of all rookie WRs over the past three seasons and added 159 rushing yards last season as well.
Samuel is a solid athlete who posted a 71st-percentile 40-yard dash, a 78th-percentile Speed Score, and an 81st-percentile Burst Score according to Player Profiler. However, he dealt with injury in college as well and his best season was only 882 receiving yards as a Senior.
I’m a fan of Samuel and believe he’s a solid dual-threat player. However, Samuel likely benefited from the 49ers’ lack of playmakers at the WR position last year. Emmanuel Sanders was only rented for half a season and has now been replaced by Round 1 NFL Draft pick Brandon Aiyuk. Plus, 2019 third-round pick, Jalen Hurd, returns from injury and will enter the picture as well.
I don’t like to draft injured players so until we hear extremely positive news, I’m out on Deebo in redraft. However, this does create an interesting buy-window in dynasty. I’m not aggressively targeting Samuel but it’s wise to at least check-in with the Samuel owner. If they’re in a win-now mindset and aren’t considering the possibility of COVID-19 shortening or eliminating the 2020 season, you’ll probably be able to reasonably acquire him.
On the field, Preston Williams is the real deal. If he can continue staying out of trouble off the field, unlike in the past, I’m bullish on his prospects moving forward. Williams didn’t receive much playing time at Tennessee but after transferring to Colorado State and sitting out a full season, he caught 96 passes for 1,345 yards and 14 TDs in 2018.
Many have likely forgotten Williams was actually outproducing 2019 breakout star, DeVante Parker, before his mid-season ACL tear. Here are Parker and Williams’ statistics playing together in Weeks 1-9:[lptw_table id=”163487″ style=”default”]
Miami had 11 selections in the 2020 draft and only brought in one total WR or TE and it was in the seventh round. Williams should once again be locked into the starting lineup for a bad team that will have to throw plenty in 2020. He’s a target for me in both dynasty and redraft. I believe he’s undervalued in both formats, particularly in redraft where his 14th-round (160.5) ADP makes no sense to me.
Slayton had a really fun rookie season. Taken in the fifth-round coming out of Auburn, Slayton posted a 95th-percentile 40-yard dash and 75th-percentile Speed Score according to Player Profiler. That athleticism translated to the field, where Slayton led the Giants in receiving yards with 740.
Slayton showed promise and by no means do I want to disregard him. But he did benefit from injuries and suspensions to Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley last season. He’s not a target for me in redraft or dynasty.
Renfrow posted between 492 and 602 receiving yards all four years at Clemson and then caught 49 passes for 605 yards as a rookie. The bottom line is he’s an extremely reliable and solid player that simultaneously offers little upside.
The Raiders really only had Renfrow and Tyrell Williams to work with at WR last season once Antonio Brown hung them out to dry. That won’t be the case in 2020 now that Nelson Agholor has been brought in in Free Agency and Henry Ruggs, Lynn Bowden, and Bryan Edwards were drafted.
While Renfrow appears to be a value pick late in drafts, he just doesn’t move the needle. Picking late should be all about upside. Renfrow is a solid NFL player but he’s not a target for me in fantasy.
I’m such a fan of Diontae Johnson. The Steelers’ organization has a great track record with drafting WRs and they were rewarded once again after bringing Johnson in as a third-rounder. Johnson only posted 761 yards in 13 games as a junior at Toledo. That’s not that exciting. But his sophomore season showed us a glimpse of the upside Johnson is capable of. He caught 74 passes for 1,278 yards and 13 TDs that year.
His elite route-running ability and skillset immediately translated to the NFL as Diontae made the most out of a tough QB situation with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined, competing with JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington every step of the way. Here are 2019 targets and receiving yards per game for the three: JuJu 5.8 and 46, Diontae 5.8 and 42.5, and Washington 5.3 and 49.
But it was Johnson that led the team in receptions with 59. Entering year two with Big Ben projected to return, Johnson’s arrow is pointing up. He’s a fantastic dynasty asset and a target for me in both dynasty and redraft. I’ll take advantage of his ninth-round (98.7) ADP in redraft every time.
Brown is an electric playmaker who combined for 2,413 receiving yards in only two seasons at Oklahoma before declaring for the NFL Draft. After declaring, Brown learned he had suffered a Lisfranc injury and had surgery prior to his rookie season.
Despite only playing in 14 games and playing at less than 100% with hardware inserted in his foot, Brown still made a name for himself as a rookie, leading all Ravens’ WRs in targets (71), receptions (46), receiving yards (584), and receiving TDs (7).
Brown had surgery to remove a screw from his foot and has had no reported setbacks this season. He has a chance to take a major sophomore leap as he still projects as the clear-cut WR1 on the team despite offseason additions of third-round pick Devin Duvernay and sixth-round pick James Proche.
But Brown isn’t that easy of an evaluation for me. Pro Football Reference has Brown listed at 170 pounds and the fact is, very few WRs that size have had success in the NFL, especially recently. DeSean Jackson, Emmanuel Sanders, and John Brown are the only three WRs around the same weight since 2000 to post multiple 1,000-yard seasons and all three are listed a bit heavier, between 175-180 pounds.
Brown has the talent and is in a solid situation to be a unicorn player. I don’t want to bet against him but I’m not personally aggressively targeting him in dynasty and his early seventh round (74.2) redraft ADP is a bit too expensive for my liking. Brown is currently being drafted ahead of Jarvis Landry, Michael Gallup, and Tyler Boyd, and I prefer all three to Brown. However, know your league settings. If you still play in any non-PPR scoring formats, that’s where Brown can significantly be moved up your rankings since the Ravens’ run-heavy, deep downfield passing offensive attack suits Brown’s big-play ability perfectly.
Hardman was an exciting, yet questionable evaluation. Hardman posted a 99th-percentile 40-yard dash, 75th-percentile Speed Score, and 75th-percentile Agility Score during the pre-draft process and then was drafted in the second round. However, he only totaled 961 receiving yards in his collegiate career before leaving after his junior season.
Hardman landed in the perfect situation and made the most of his limited chances as a rookie, posting 538 receiving yards and six receiving TDs on only 41 targets. That insane efficiency throws out any questions I had regarding Hardman’s lack of collegiate production. In fact, since 1992 when targets started being recorded, Hardman has the best season in history in terms of receiving yards with 43 or fewer targets.
Despite Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill dominating targets in Kansas City and Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson being retained for another season as well, I remain bullish on Hardman in all formats. I’m actually appreciative of the return of Watkins and Robinson because it’s keeping Hardman’s ADP reasonable. Hardman can be had for an 11th-round (129.8) pick in redraft and he has the exact upside I shoot for in the double-digit rounds. He can be reasonably acquired in dynasty as well and that’s where I really want shares. Even if Watkins and Robinson manage to box him out for one more year, Hardman’s athleticism, paired with Patrick Mahomes, is bound to be a legit fantasy combination very, very soon.
Meyers went undrafted and lacks an exciting athletic profile. However, he did combine for 1,774 receiving yards over his final two college seasons and then just posted 26 receptions for 359 receiving yards as a rookie.
Meyers can play and is flying completely under the radar thanks to Tom Brady‘s departure. Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Mohamed Sanu are the only three players standing in the way of playing time for Meyers. I like Meyers as a dynasty stash and believe he’s someone to keep an eye on this offseason and early in the year for redraft purposes.
Notable Players Not Listed
Campbell was drafted in the second round after catching 90 passes for 1,063 yards and 12 TDs as a senior at Ohio State. He’s an electric athlete who has 4.31 wheels (100th-percentile) and 97th-percentile ranks in both Speed and Burst according to Player Profiler.
Unfortunately, Campbell’s rookie season was derailed by injuries as he suffered through a bad hamstring, sports hernia, broken hand, and broken foot. Campbell only appeared in seven games due to these issues but still finished with the fifth-most targets (24) and the third-most receptions (18) at the WR position on the team.
Campbell reportedly has had a great and healthy offseason, projects to play in the slot with T.Y. Hilton and second-round pick Michael Pittman on the outside, and Philip Rivers provides a significant upgrade at QB. There’s no reason not to invest in Campbell in redraft thanks to his 17th-round (193.6) ADP. He offers some exciting upside at that affordable price. I’m not as bullish in dynasty as I see Campbell as a solid player but not one with an elite ceiling. Still, he can reasonably be acquired in this format as well.
Harry was drafted in the first round by New England after totaling 2,889 receiving yards and 25 total TDs over three seasons at Arizona State and posting a 90th-percentile Speed Score and 78th-percentile Burst Score according to Player Profiler. So we know Harry checks off all three boxes of draft capital, college production, and athleticism for his size at 6′ 2″ and 228 pounds.
His rookie year was disappointing but it’s important to add context. Harry was placed on injured reserve before the beginning of the season after suffering an ankle injury in a preseason contest. He wasn’t active for a game until Week 11 and caught 12 passes for 105 yards and two TDs over seven games to end the year.
Harry is in great shape to make a major sophomore leap, with only 34-year old Julian Edelman and soon-to-be 31-year old Mohamed Sanu as his only major competition for targets at the WR position. Both Edelman and Sanu are best suited for the slot, leaving Harry with very little competition on the outside. Plus, the Patriots don’t have any TEs on their roster they can currently rely on.
Now healthy and better acclimated to the league, Harry is a no-brainer upside dart throw at his current 15th-round (176.4) redraft ADP, especially now that Cam Newton is going to be his starting QB. Newton has made a living in the league throwing to big receivers just like Harry. It’s tougher to gain value on Harry in dynasty, especially now with this exciting news of Cam coming to town. If you have him, hold him. It’s worth checking in on his owner in dynasty as there’s a chance you could take advantage of an over reactionary owner.
Isabella totaled 3,526 receiving yards and 32 total TDs over four years at Massachusetts and finished his career with a 1,698-yard senior season. He was drafted in the second round after posting a 4.31 40-yard dash (100th-percentile), 77th-percentile Speed Score, and 65th-percentile Agility Score.
His rookie year was a disappointment as he only saw 12 targets but did manage to turn them into nine receptions for 189 yards and a TD. He would be an exciting second-year leap candidate but DeAndre Hopkins arriving in Arizona puts an unfortunate damper on those prospects.
Sitting behind DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, and Larry Fitzgerald, Isabella is off the redraft radar for now. Still, he’s a player worth monitoring throughout the offseason and early in the year. This Arizona offense in year two with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray is one I’m buying into heavily. So it makes sense to grab some cheap shares of Isabella now in dynasty.