Three Potential Breakout WRs Without the Premium Price Tag (Fantasy Football)

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Breakout wide receivers are typically difficult to find ahead of time, and even more difficult to get at a discount in fantasy drafts. A player that’s statistically projected to breakout will usually have a massive hype train behind them, and for good reason. If you want to land the next Calvin Ridley, Chris Godwin, or AJ Brown, then you also need to be prepared to pay a premium and take on some additional risk. These are the more “obvious breakout” candidates, and they won’t be covered here. 

I prefer to identify receivers with similar potential in their offenses, but without the ridiculous price tag. These are the guys that can really take you over the top, and don’t pose as big of a risk. Diontae Johnson, Robby Anderson, and Cole Beasley come to mind when looking back at 2020. Increased opportunity for talented receivers is the basic formula. Players that don’t have to “get better at everything”, but players who are already solid at many things, just haven’t had the chance to put it all together. 

Three players are shaping up to fit this mold for 2021:

Jerry Jeudy 

Jeudy’s ADP will skyrocket if the man in Green Bay ends up in Denver, but for now it’s at a reasonable place. His rookie campaign didn’t turn out the way some fantasy managers had hoped, but the underlying metrics tell a different story. Jeudy is an excellent receiver, and his reputation as a refined route runner is well in-tact. If the quarterback play can improve for the Broncos, then Jeudy’s ceiling could be….. mile high. 

Teddy Bridgewater has a chance to win the job in Denver, and Jeudy drafters should be hoping that happens. He may not possess the electric dance moves or entertainment value that Drew Lock does, but he’s a more reliable signal-caller when it comes to the boring, simple throws that win games in the NFL. Jeudy saw 113 targets in 2020, and averaged more targets per game than Chris Godwin, CeeDee Lamb, and Chase Claypool. The return of Courtland Sutton could potentially eat into his target total, but given Jeudy’s masterful route running ability and his talent for getting open, his production per target could inflate dramatically. Jeudy saw double coverage 7% of the time in 2020, which should be the ceiling once Sutton returns to the outside. Less double coverage should lead to easier production, increased separation, and improved YAC metrics. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Jeudy turn into Denver’s version of Tyler Boyd, but with a bit more sizzle on his steak. Think Filet Mignon instead of a Porterhouse. Given his WR37 ADP, I’m willing to order the premium cut. 

Curtis Samuel 

To be fair, this is like the third season in a row that we’ve discussed a true Curtis Samuel breakout. I don’t blame you one bit if you’re already off the train. I’m personally hanging on for one more season, given the drastic change in environment for him. Terry McLaurin is a stone-cold baller, so Samuel is unlikely to be the big dog in Washington. The beauty of this situation is that we don’t need him to be. Clifford was the biggest dog in history, and once I grew up I realized he must’ve been a huge hassle anyway. We just need Samuel to outproduce his ADP, which looks like a pretty simple task if things stay the way they are now.

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Samuel is another player who had a surprisingly impressive route running success in 2020, and now he teams up with Captain DGAF himself at quarterback. Side note: this is my official request to make that his new nickname on the yet-to-be-developed “Ballers After Dark” podcast that I will continue pitching to the team. Washington should throw the ball downfield a lot more this year, and plenty of those targets will funnel to Samuel. 

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Samuel’s opportunity in 2020 left a lot to be desired, but his efficiency was excellent. Despite a 43rd best target share, an 82nd best YPR, and a 65th best air yard total, Samuel was fantasy relevant. He ended the year as the 27th best receiver in fantasy PPG, and the 12th best receiver in fantasy points per target. Both his catch rate and contested catch rate were in the top 15, and his average cushion ranked 21st at the position. For those of you who don’t like long sentences full of data, this means that he did well with what he was given. By way of the transitive property, if he’s given more, it’s reasonable to expect he will produce more. Samuel isn’t just a deep threat, and Washington lacks weapons on every part of the field. McLaurin will be the obvious 1A, but Samuel is already in line to be the 1B from the first snap. 

To make the case for Samuel as simple as possible, just know this:

In 2019 he was the WR38, and in 2020 he was the WR25. His ADP right now is WR40. Unless you expect him to see LESS work in Washington, or forget how to football – then he’s already a value. 

Henry Ruggs

Before you come to my Twitter feed with torches and pitchforks, hear me out. Ruggs didn’t deliver on his dynasty draft capital, but he wasn’t a complete flop. He stepped into an offense that wasn’t totally ready for him, and he admittedly didn’t deliver as much as you’d expect him to when he was given the chance. His second season could be another story. Darren Waller is basically the WR1 in Vegas (and in my heart), but Ruggs has a skillset that could separate him and allow him to become the much-needed second threat in the passing game for Las Vegas. 

Ruggs was drafted as an elite downfield target with Olympic speed, and he was primarily deployed that way. Per PlayerProfiler, His average target distance was the second-best in the NFL, and both his yards per target and yards per reception were in the top ten. This confirms his deep-threat prowess, but doesn’t totally explain his lack of production. Both his catch rate and YAC were exceptionally poor, but that could be a byproduct of being a rookie. I don’t have any concrete metrics to track “The Yips”, but it’s a solid explanation as to why an elite deep threat didn’t deliver, despite many opportunities to be a deep threat. He might have actually forgotten how to football for a stretch. I’m banking on cerebral regression, and for Ruggs to take a leap this year. 

On the back of those efficiency metrics is a lesser-used one – target quality rating. It combines catchable target percentages with average target depth and highlights how productive a player had a chance to be. Ruggs lead the entire league in this metric, he just didn’t capitalize on it. When you’re trying to find a receiver that could breakout, you should find one that had the chance to, but didn’t. Ruggs fits that mold perfectly, and he’s only entering his second season. If he can settle into the offense and see a bit more opportunity in the intermediate passing game, then he could really explode for fantasy managers that use a late pick on him. Considering he had highest quality targets in the league, but has an ADP of WR54…. He’s a low-risk, high-reward selection at this point.

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