When we look back on the 2020 NFL season and how fantasy football played out, it is going to be remembered as the year of the quality wide receiver.
Fantasy Football managers are so used to drafting running backs early and often that there are true quality wide receivers available in even in the fifth and sixth rounds.
Players such as Courtland Sutton and Stefon Diggs, who could be the top pass catchers on their respective teams are going at cheap prices.
However, after that sixth-round area, wide receiver does a reverse and is no longer deep.
So many teams are playing three and four-wide receiver sets and no longer targeting their top wide receiver on 25% or more of their passing plays.
This means that there are theoretically more wide receivers who have some semblance of fantasy value, but there are far fewer true fantasy starters every single week.
Even if you don’t really buy the concept of modified “Zero RB” and want to start plugging away your draft with multiple running backs (which we actually think is fine in some situations; for example, if you can start Miles Sanders, Kenyan Drake and James Conner that is a reasonable starting point) it is so vital to realize that WR is not a deep position. If you are looking for your WR2 in the eighth round, chances are you’re going to struggle.
By passing up those elite WRs in rounds two to four for the likes of Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell, you are making a bet with asymmetric downside.
Best-case scenario, those third-tier running backs grind out seasons where they stay healthy and don’t hurt you on a weekly basis.
The evidence would suggest that not only are you making negative expected value picks by taking running backs in the dead zone of the third/fourth/fifth rounds, but in 2020 specifically, you aren’t leaving yourself outs to figure out wide receiver production later.
Unlike running backs, we struggle at knowing which week wide receivers are going to do their scoring. It is why we say that we like Mecole Hardman and Will Fuller better in best ball. It’s why we draft nine WRs in best ball.
A big competitive advantage you get from drafting elite WRs is that you are not stuck guessing on who to sit or start. You’re just starting the guys you drafted who all have 25% target shares of their offenses.
It is helpful to know which wide receivers we should be selecting as well.
Of all the fantastic young wide receivers in the NFL (Chris Godwin, A.J. Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster), D.J. Moore could have five straight years of WR1 seasons in fantasy football.
This is likely the last time that we are going to see Moore go later than the second round in fantasy drafts for quite some time.
The Panthers could have a bounce-back season in 2020.
In addition to hiring Matt Rhule and signing Teddy Bridgewater, the team also brought in the mastermind of LSU’s offensive resurgence in Joe Brady. Likely the biggest change from the 2019 Panthers horizontal passing game is how willing Rhule and Brady will be to throw down the field.
The recipe of improved QB play, an innovative and pass-heavy offensive coordinator, new head coach, and his good performance (even without any touchdowns to speak of) through two seasons make Moore a slam-dunk pick in the third round of any fantasy football draft.
Marquise Brown is another player that we should make our priority. Without even getting into arguments about pedigree, size, or talent, the simplest explanation for why Marquise Brown is about to take off is that Brown averaged 8.2 yards per target and scored seven touchdowns as a rookie despite getting injured.
In the midst of that season, Brown racked up 1.81 yards per route run which ranked 33rd in the NFL. That was more than Odell Beckham, D.J Chark, D.K. Metcalf, and Tyler Boyd.
Our favorite sleeper wide receiver is Jacksonville’s Laviska Shenault. With Shenault, we have an elite prospect who was drafted highly coming into a team that is projected to be above league average in terms of passes thrown and who likely doesn’t have much competition for targets especially in the back half of the 2020 season.
The team could move on from Dede Westbrook and if Shenault is in fact good, Chris Conley will not be a playing-time obstacle. There is also the scenario where the team looks at how poor Leonard Fournette was on the goal line in 2019 (23 rushing attempts inside the 10 and only three touchdowns) and chooses to occasionally use Shenaul the way he was used in college.
Given how cheap Shenault is in drafts in 2020, he is one player you should guarantee that you leave every single fantasy football draft with.
An example of a player that we are avoiding is the New Orleans Saints’ Emmanuel Sanders. Taking Sanders as likely the fourth option on an increasingly more-ground heavy team is really rooting for the friendliest loss. The selection won’t ruffle any feathers, but you’re so unlikely to generate any positive value with the pick.
Wide receiver is not deep. While that perception continues to permeate throughout the fantasy football community, it is not backed up in reality.
We aren’t good at knowing when to start medium-tier WRs and wide receivers are far less likely than RBs to become league-winning players off the waiver wire because fantasy points are more linked to talent at the WR position than sheer opportunity the way it is for RBs.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by SportsGrid Inc., www.sportsgrid.com