Narrowing the Field to Find 2020’s DeVante Parker (Fantasy Football)
If you came into 2019 a Devante Parker truther, there wasn’t raw fantasy production to hang your hat on. Through four seasons, the highest Parker had finished in fantasy was WR49 all the way back in 2016. He had never played a full 16 games and had nine total TDs for his career. Nothing production-wise was pointing towards a breakout. However, the draft pedigree (14th overall in 2015) and his athletic measurables offered the smallest glimmer of hope. Parker’s comparison coming into the league was A.J. Green: a tall (6’3), smooth wideout with an elite speed score (89th percentile) and the ability to excel on deep targets.
There was never a question about Parker’s talent, just his desire to play and the supporting cast in Miami. When the organization decided to extend Parker with his 5th-year option, the fantasy community was shocked given the years of underwhelming performance and the number of DNPs stained in our memories. All Parker did in 2019 was give a giant dropkick to the nads of every single naysayer en route to finishing as the WR7 in 0.5-point leagues.
Who is going full Parker in 2020? Here are five specific criteria identified that allow us to eliminate and narrow the field of fantasy WRs to find a couple at the very end who might have the opportunity to do Parker-esque things in 2020.
For the Footballers’ official sleepers, breakouts, and busts at the WR position, check out the Ultimate Draft Kit.
1. Late Round Dart Throw
If you’re researching looking for Parker’s ADP in redraft last year, you likely need to move on as the dude went basically undrafted everywhere. In dynasty startup drafts he was a 14th round dart throw at best. What made Parker so special in 2019 was the high-level production mixed with the basement-level draft cost. For this exercise, we’ll start the process at lopping off any WR in the first 100 picks according to Bestball ADP. Drafting late-round fliers like Parker is all about selling yourself a narrative in which you could see the high range of their outcomes come to fruition. Realistically, nine times out of ten these dart throws don’t work out for your team but the draft cost is so insignificant that you are able to move on quickly. This is a lottery ticket people. You can do your scratch-offs from the gas station a million times and maybe… just maybe… you’ll strike gold.
Players Eliminated: Any WR from the top eight rounds
2. Game of Chess: No Rooks
Rookie WRs need time to adjust. There are the outliers (hey there 2014) but for the most part, we aren’t expecting a major breakout from even of these highly talented rookie pass catchers. Remember: the goal of the exercise is to find someone who is Parker-esque with a similar profile heading into 2020.
Players Eliminated: Jerry Jeudy, Ceedee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, Henry Ruggs III, Justin Jefferson, Michael Pittman Jr., Brandon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims, Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault Jr.
3. No Country for Old Men
Going into 2019, Parker was still just 26 years old. Yes, yes I know. This is the dynasty community’s age-old adage (see what I did there) with any young player… “But he’s only entering his 3rd season in the league… he’s barely old enough to drink.” With Parker, we were tired of the banter but recognized that youth was still on his side.
If there is any sense of glimmer left, we’ll set the cut off age at 27 years old. We’re looking for players with the youth and measurables that could finally collide in 2020. In other words, there are some veterans that we clearly know what they bring to the table. Upside isn’t exactly in our vocabulary when we’re describing these old farts.
Players Eliminated: John Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Larry Fitzgerald, Randall Cobb, Golden Tate, DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey
4. Living that Air Yards Life
If there was anything in Parker’s profile that should’ve screamed breakout, it was untapped potential in his game via Air Yards. Why do we care about Air Yards? As Mr. Air Yards himself Josh Hermsmeyer explains, “because the depth of the route is completely in the hands of the receiver… air yards is an incredibly powerful way to understand receiver performance“.
In 2017, he ranked 23rd among WRs slightly behind an emerging Tyreek Hill and ahead of Amari Cooper, Davante Adams, and Stefon Diggs. Despite being mostly forgotten in 2018, 25.6 percent of his targets were 20+ yards downfield. In 2019, he went into another stratosphere ranking 5th in total Air Yards (1,772). In other words, as much as he pained us each year, the deep targets were begging for us to believe one more time.
Players Eliminated: Jamison Crowder, Sterling Shepard, Anthony Miller, N’Keal Harry, Hunter Renfrow, Parris Campbell, Dede Westbrook
5. Time to Get Nuts
After everything highlighted thus far about Parker, the secret to his success was going off the board, believing a narrative that he had some alpha in him, and finding a QB crazy enough to repeatedly target him over and over again. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the perfect match for his willingness to force the ball downfield and unshakeable mental makeup to keep going. In other words, we’re betting on either a crazy scenario, a QB pairing that has room in our projection, and their makeup to just hold caution to the wind and go for it. We want QB OR an offensive system with the ambiguity or proclivity for upside. It’s time to get nuts.
Players Eliminated: Corey Davis, Mike Williams, Robby Anderson, Allen Lazard, Preston Williams, Tyrell Williams,
The WRs with the Best Chance to be Parker-esque in 2020
Darius Slayton– ADP: 108th overall, WR40
The name is just so fun to say… Slayton. The second-year wideout is on our map after an impressive campaign where he became the 8th WR since 2000 to collect eight TDs and above 15 yards per reception in his rookie year. At a 14.2 aDOT, these weren’t cheap targets by any means. Also, keep in mind Slayton didn’t see the field until Week 3 and wasn’t a full-time player until Week 6. He was on pace for 103 targets from that point on. This is also a bet on Daniel Jones taking a step forward. Jones threw nine TDs on 54 “deep attempts”, trailing only Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Jimmy Garoppolo in deep-ball TD efficiency. Slayton could assert himself as the alpha among the Giants receiving corps although Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Evan Engram all have something to say on that matter.
Curtis Samuel– ADP: 160th overall, WR59
There was some internal conflict about whether to showcase Robby Anderson or Samuel here. At this point, I feel like we know what Anderson is and Samuel’s profile fits more of the route I think a breakout could occur. Samuel ran the most routes in the NFL, saw the 8th most deep targets, and had the 11th most Air Yards. Despite seeing a solid 107 targets, only 67(!) of them were deemed catchable. Samuel ranked 105th(!) among WRs in terms of catchable target rate and 95th in Yards per Route Run. The dude got in his step count on his FitBit with the likes of Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, and Will Grier throwing him the rock.
Teddy Bridgewater might seem like a low ceiling QB but we might need to press reset on what we’ve seen thus far from Teddy B in the NFL. New offensive coordinator Joe Brady reset the college football record book but there’s no guarantee it will translate immediately to NFL success. However, in fantasy football drafting, that is how we take advantage of the ambiguity and the unknowns surrounding the offense. You have to believe the combination of Teddy B, Samuel’s metrics, and 2019 promise will come to fruition in a new offense.
Breshad Perriman– ADP: 151st overall, WR57
Feels like this dude has been around since the Bush administration. Perriman is still just 26 years old and if the end of 2019 was any indication, there’s still hope worth holding onto. Perriman was buried in dynasty rankings and left for dead among anyone with any semblance of a brain last year. Heck, he was on his 3rd team in four years and the Browns gave up on him. But last year in Tampa Bay, after Mike Evans and Chris Godwin went down he went bananas. Over those final four games, he led the league in Air Yards, totaled the 2nd most WR fantasy points, and won people fantasy championships. That is a sentence I never thought I would type. After signing with the Jets this offseason, he has a chance to assert himself as Sam Darnold‘s top option. Jamison Crowder and rookie Denzel Mims shouldn’t scare you off from taking a shot at Perriman if you believe the end of the year breakout was real. For more on Perriman, give Ryan Weisse’s What to Do With Breshad Perriman a read.
Mecole Hardman/Sammy Watkins– ADP: 112th/152nd overall, WR43/58
Both of these Chiefs WRs fit the mold and I totally understand if one of them causes you to vomit. Hardman was drafted to be an integral part of this Chiefs offense but he lacks the volume necessary to truly put up elite numbers. He’s called the “One Touch Man” for a reason because he averaged a TD every 4.3 receptions! All hail the Lizard King! I’m sorry I just can’t quit Watkins. Based on our criteria listed above, he checks all the boxes (just turned 27) although perhaps I should’ve added another guideline that screens for reptilian features… Regardless of his outlandish theories, Watkins’ draft price and upside are apparent as evidenced in his Week 1 explosion last year. I don’t have to convince you about their QB or the offensive system in Kansas City but take your shot on a Kansas City wide receiver at the end of your bench.
James Washington– ADP: 211th overall, WR71
To go full Obi-Wan: this isn’t the Steelers WR you were looking for? Washington is a forgotten man in Pittsburgh behind Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and rookie second-round draft pick Chase Claypool. Nevertheless, Washington’s deep game is what raises my attention. Washington had as many deep targets as D.J. Chark and ranked 4th in the league in percentage of deep targets (33.8 percent); unfortunately, his QB play was an abomination as only eight of his 26 deep targets were deemed catchable. Washington was 11th in Yards per Reception (16.7) and 11th in aDOT (14.9). He’s also best in contested catch situations (52.9 percent in 2019) which separates him from Juju’s zone coverage ownage skills and Johnson’s work on intermediate routes. It’s the Air Yards and big plays mixed with the return of Big Ben that could pay off big IF he owns the outside and Juju terrorizes the middle of the field.
John Ross– ADP: 224th overall, WR78
This might get completely poo-pooed on but we can’t ignore some of the factors. Ross averaged the fifth most Air Yards per game played in 2019 and was a monster at the beginning of the season. He’s also on an offense that provides more of the unknown that fantasy owners shy away from. For deep formats in Bestball, I’ll take a shot on Ross if I’m pairing him with a Joe Burrow stack. I fully expect the Bengals to run 3 & 4-WR sets 70 percent of the time. You’re hoping for the slight chance that Ross and A.J. Green go nuts. Or if Green is not over his injury bugaboos and Tyler Boyd remains a solid yet unspectacular slot threat, Ross holds off rookie Tee Higgins and just goes bananas. The Bengals declined his 5th-year option so its now or never for the former 9th overall selection in the 2017 draft.