Fantasy Football: Ranking Sophomore WRs You Want To Draft

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Rookies are always en vogue in the months following the NFL Draft. Keeping that same energy for players the following year is a little more difficult, but can be the key to fantasy success. 

Wide receivers tend to follow a steady progression curve early in their careers. A “third-year breakout” at the position has become a cliche, but it’s not inaccurate. However, it’s important to remember the players that fall in between the two ballyhooed groups. Talented sophomore receivers now have a year of NFL experience under their belts, more familiarity with their team’s offensive system, and could take a step forward in fantasy production. Some also enter the 2020 season healthier than they were as a rookie. 

Twenty-eight WRs were taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. They are broken down into five categories below: Stars, Productive, Intriguing, Hanging on by a Thread, and Irrelevant. Let’s take a closer look at those 28 WRs (and two undrafted ones) to evaluate their average draft position (ADP) and what they could bring to your fantasy team in 2020. 

STARS

-- A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans (ADP: WR16)

-- DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: WR23)

-- Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins (ADP: WR27)

-- Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: WR28)

While rookie receivers tend to take some time to become starter-worthy in fantasy leagues, this quartet made a quick impact. Some were productive earlier than others, but all were extremely helpful in the back-half of the fantasy season and the playoffs. You’ll need to pay close to full price for all of these players in 2020, as they all fall in or near the WR2 range. 

Brown finished as the WR23 in overall PPR fantasy points and as the WR30 on a points-per-game basis in 2019. In 10 games to end the regular season with Ryan Tannehill as his quarterback, Brown was the WR7 overall and WR11 on a per-game basis. Some regression is expected for the Titans’ passing offense, but how much will that be counteracted by Tannehill starting from Week 1 instead of Week 7? I expect Brown to put up similar WR2 numbers in 2020 as Tennessee’s primary option.

Metcalf was drafted into a situation where he’d get plenty of work, so he was the most hyped rookie WR in fantasy heading into the season. The workload lived up to expectations, as Metcalf led all rookies with 100 targets. He finished as the WR35 overall and WR46 on a per-game basis. His receptions per game jumped from 2.9 in Weeks 1-8 to 4.4 from Week 9 on. He’ll continue to have a major role in Seattle’s offense and should be viewed as a high-end WR3. 

McLaurin overcame iffy (we’re being nice here) quarterback play to find a lot of success out of the gate. He was the WR25 in total points and WR28 in average points per game in 2019. There were some flashes from QB Dwayne Haskins late last season that portend possible positive progression, but the big question mark at quarterback may limit McLaurin’s upside. I expect a 1,000-yard season, but a WR3 finish in 2020. 

Samuel really took off following San Francisco’s mid-season trade for Emmanuel Sanders. From that point on, Samuel ranked as the WR16 overall and WR23 on a per-game basis. If you want to include Week 17 as well, Samuel was the WR8 overall and WR20 on a per-game basis. He averaged six targets per game over the final 10 weeks of the regular season and the playoffs. Sanders is now in New Orleans, but the addition of rookie Brandon Aiyuk should be all the “protection” Samuel needs to succeed. Draft him at his current ADP.

PRODUCTIVE

-- Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: WR32)

-- Darius Slayton, New York Giants (ADP: WR41)

-- Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: WR42)

This trio was productive at times last season but carries a cheaper WR3/4 price tag heading into 2020. Can any of these players jump into the top 30?

Brown was recovering from a foot injury heading into his rookie campaign but was tremendous right out of the gate. He had a 4/147/2 performance in his debut and an 8/86/0 game with 13 targets to follow up in Week 2. Things fell off a cliff from there. He averaged 2.8 receptions on 4.4 targets per game the rest of the way. Brown is healthy this season, but we’ll see how much the Ravens⁠—a team that ran on an NFL-leading 54% of its offensive plays⁠—actually throw this season. Tight end Mark Andrews is still the go-to, but Brown is worth the low-end WR3, high-end WR4 price tag as an upside play.

Slayton took advantage of teammate injuries and a suspension to put together a pretty solid 2019 season. His peaks (10/121/2 in Week 10 and 5/154/2 in Week 14) were as high as anyone in the league. However, he finished with single-digit points in six games and that doesn’t even include not playing in Weeks 1 and 2. He proved he has big-play upside, but with Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley all currently healthy, he’s not worth a top 50 price. 

Despite catching passes from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, Johnson flirted with top 40 WR status as a rookie. This season he’ll catch passes from Ben Roethlisberger, who might be an upgrade if he threw strictly underhanded. Keep in mind that the return of a healthy JuJu Smith-Schuster and the addition of Eric Ebron will cut into the upside of Johnson’s production. It will be interesting to see how often Roethlisberger targets the sophomore after Johnson had only two games with fewer than four targets last season. I’d take a chance at the WR4 price tag, ahead of Slayton but behind Brown.

INTRIGUING

-- Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: WR49)

-- N’Keal Harry, New England Patriots (ADP: WR54)

-- Preston Williams, Miami Dolphins (ADP: WR55)

-- Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts (ADP: WR67)

-- Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders (ADP: WR69)

The five players on this list are all fascinating for different reasons. Hardman is attached to the best quarterback in football and is a touchdown threat on every play. Harry was a first-round pick last season but made almost no impact in seven games. Williams was heavily targeted in the first half of last season before an ACL tear ended his rookie year after Week 9. Campbell is uber-talented and should be Philip Rivers’ starting slot receiver. Speaking of the slot, Renfrow owns that position on the Raiders and had more total points than anyone in this section in 2019. 

All of these players will begin the season on your bench, but each deserves to be drafted. Hardman is the top choice for best-ball formats given his game-breaking speed, while Renfrow is the best high-floor choice for the risk-averse. Harry, Williams, and Campbell are wild cards with WR3 upside that can’t be trusted until fantasy managers see the production early in the season. 

HANGING ON BY A THREAD

-- Andy Isabella, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: WR84)

-- Kelvin Harmon, Washington Redskins (ADP: WR89)

-- Miles Boykin, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: WR90)

-- Steven Sims Jr., Washington Redskins (ADP: WR93)

-- Olabisi Johnson, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: WR103)

-- J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: WR120)

-- Jalen Hurd, San Francisco 49ers (ADP: WR122)

Do you want to take a flier on one of these players in the last couple of rounds of your draft? Isabella may or may not be the No. 4 WR in Arizona. Harmon and Sims flashed at times last season, but will Washington’s passing offense be good enough to sustain multiple productive fantasy receivers? Boykin is the No. 2 WR in Baltimore, but that’s not worth a whole lot given the lack of passing volume. Johnson is worth rostering if Adam Thielen or Justin Jefferson gets injured, but not in any other scenario. Arcega-Whiteside and Hurd could have expanded roles in 2020, but let’s see it actually happen first. I’d take a shot on Boykin or Sims at the end of fantasy drafts. Everyone else I’ll leave for the waiver wire. 

IRRELEVANT

-- KeeSean Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: WR180)

-- Hakeem Butler, Arizona Cardinals (ADP: N/A)

-- Scott Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: N/A)

-- Gary Jennings Jr., Miami Dolphins (ADP: N/A)

-- Riley Ridley, Chicago Bears (ADP: N/A)

-- Travis Fulgham, Detroit Lions (ADP: N/A)

-- Juwann Winfree, Denver Broncos (ADP: N/A)

-- Marcus Green, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: N/A)

-- John Ursua, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: N/A)

-- Terry Godwin, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: N/A)

-- Dillon Mitchell, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: N/A)

None of these players should be rostered in 99.5% of leagues. The first three names on this list are the only players that might even be considered by some in very deep formats. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins and the return of Larry Fitzgerald (and Christian Kirk) leaves almost no targets for the rest of the Cardinals receivers. Isabella might be No. 4 in the pecking order ahead of Johnson and Butler too. Miller would’ve been one section higher if the Buccaneers didn’t draft Tyler Johnson. Everyone else is a threat to be either a game day inactive, on the practice squad, or a free agent when the regular season begins.

Written By:

Jaime Eisner

Managing Editor

Managing Editor of The Draft Network. He’s a former editor for Sports Illustrated, FanRag Sports and Arizona Sports. He’s the co-host of the TDN Fantasy Podcast and has an extensive background covering fantasy sports and sports betting.

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