The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: D.J. Chark
D.J. Chark possesses all the physical tools to be an elite receiver in the NFL. He’s as tall as Kenny Golladay and nearly as fast as Tyreek Hill. As I hinted at in my article examining third-year wide receiver breakout candidates last month, he’s a perfect subject in our Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season series.
2019 Season Recap
After a lackluster rookie season in 2018, Chark immediately exploded on to the fantasy scene in 2019. He scored more fantasy points in Week 1 of 2019 (22.6) than he did in his entire rookie season of 2018 (22.4). He stayed hot, ranking as the WR5 through the first 11 weeks of the season.
Then the wheels fell off. From Week 12 on, he averaged just 42.4 yards per game and didn’t find the endzone. Part of the backslide can be attributed to the inconsistent mix of quarterback play from Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew. More of it can be chalked up to a nagging ankle injury that caused him to miss Week 14 and likely hindered him for multiple weeks.
The Path for 2020
The Jaguars aren’t expected to compete for the NFL playoffs in 2020, but their offense is poised to take a step forward. With the departure of Nick Foles to Chicago and no other signal-callers added, the Jaguars are ready to give Gardner Minshew a shot as their franchise quarterback.
They’ve also brought in Jay Gruden as offensive coordinator to call the plays. Gruden was the play-caller in Cincinnati during A.J. Green‘s best years, so he knows a thing or two about utilizing freakishly talented wideouts in an offense.
Chark led Jacksonville with a 21% target share in 2019. Dede Westbrook wasn’t far behind at 19% and Leonard Fournette posted a surprising 18%. Westbrook may lose some targets to rookie playmaker Laviska Shenault and Fournette, who was never meant to be a pass-catching back, will almost certainly lose targets to free-agent acquisition Chris Thompson. Chark meanwhile profiles as a number one outside receiver that can be a true target hog. Seeing his target share tick up a few percentage points is a very realistic scenario.
Chark hauled in 61.9% of the passes thrown his way in 2019. While not elite, some of last year’s WR1s were in that range. Kenny Golladay, DeVante Parker, and Mike Evans all finished as top 12 fantasy wideouts with a sub 60% catch rate.
So Chark’s catch rate from last year could be good enough, but there’s also the chance that it improves in 2020. Jacksonville started 2019 planning to build their franchise around the freshly paid Nick Foles. A year later Foles is in Chicago and the Jaguars appear ready to give Gardner Minshew the keys to the offense for the foreseeable future. Chark and Minshew clicked and the two’s chemistry should continue to grow with another full season together. He isn’t the type of receiver likely to be among the league leaders in catch rate, but a slight uptick in catch rate would go a long way towards his chances of reaching WR1 status.
As of this writing, Jacksonville has the lowest over/under win total for the 2020 season, a feeble 4.5 games. A once stout defense has been ravaged by the departures of Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Telvin Smith, and Calais Campbell. Yannick Ngakoue is also as good as gone as he and the team seem to have unreconcilable differences.
Why bring this up under the “Receptions” heading? Bad teams can produce WR1s much easier than RB1s. Last year 6-of-12 WR1s came from losing teams, with another two coming from 8-8 teams. Jacksonville is likely to be playing from behind most of this season. When teams are trailing, their pass attempts go up. Jay Gruden won’t be gun shy with passes when it comes to playcalling. As the unquestioned number one receiver, Chark could see his targets, and therefore receptions, skyrocket in 2020.
Chark barely cracked 1,000 receiving yards in 2019, and he did it in boom-or-bust fashion. Of his 1,008 receiving yards, 414 of them (41%) came in just three games. He totaled less than 60 receiving yards in nine games. For some context, the famously inconsistent Amari Cooper had less than 60 receiving yards in seven games last season. Chark will have to be more consistent and eliminate some dud performances to join the WR1 ranks.
Air Yards is one of my favorite wideout stats when looking for a breakout receiver. Our editor explained it great in the primer to this series. Put simply, I view it as a good way to gauge a wideout’s fantasy ceiling. Chark’s total Air Yards (1,358), put him in the same ballpark as Chris Godwin (1,301) and Tyler Lockett (1,364). What sticks out, however, is that Chark accounted for 33% of his team’s total Air Yards. That’s significantly higher than Godwin (23%) or Lockett (28%). When the Jaguars air it out deep, it’s likely headed in Chark’s direction.
Touchdowns are the clearest path for any wideout to a WR1 season but are also the most difficult to forecast. His eight trips to the endzone in 2019 were as many or more than 7-of-12 WR1s on the season. Given his speed and athleticism, Chark can score from anywhere on the field and in a variety of ways. Besides simply out running or out jumping defenders, he also showed a strong rapport with Gardner Minshew when the designed play broke down. The clip below is just one of several examples from last season.
These kinds or instincts and a strong connection with the quarterback can lead to a few additional touchdowns in a season, which can make all the difference between finishing as a WR1 or WR2.
WR Probability in 2020: Maybe (33%)
I got this number after running a very scientific Twitter poll. “Maybe” won the poll with “unlikely” not far behind. I hedged a bit with the percentages and am giving Chark a 33% chance to become a WR1 in 2020, which seems reasonable for the up-and-coming third-year receiver.
As you’ll see throughout this series, the wide receiver position is deep in 2020. It can be argued that Chark is as physically gifted as any wideout in the league. We saw his massive upside flash in 2019, but we also saw him disappear as the season progressed. As of this writing, he sits at WR14 on The Ballers’ most recent consensus rankings while going as WR18 according to Fantasy Football Calculator ADP. If he can stay healthy and find consistency with Gardner Minshew, a WR1 finish and a nice draft value are well within reach.