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NFL Free Agents: Wide Receivers (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Shane Manila | @ShaneIsTheWorst | Featured Writer
Jan 20, 2020

Amari Cooper headlines this year’s class of free agent receivers.

Free-agent wide receivers offer tantalizing upside, but in the past, they have largely underperformed in their first year on a new roster. This is something to keep in mind when targeting pending free agent wide receivers in dynasty trades or startup drafts. Be prepared to live with a subpar season, with the hope of a year two bounce-back before you trade for or spend early draft capital on wide receivers that are changing teams. Think of Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Paul Richardson, Albert Wilson, and Michael Crabtree from two seasons ago. Though last season’s class produced instant-impact wide receivers like Jamison Crowder, Cole Beasley, and John Brown, it also featured busts like Tyrell Williams, Adam Humphries, and Odell Beckham (though he was traded and not a free agent).

This year’s free-agent class isn’t very deep, and the higher end talent is especially sparse. The restricted free agent (RFA) batch is particularly grotesque, with the best of the bunch probably being Keelan Cole, who is only a deep roster stash at this point. Instead of RFAs, this article will focus on unrestricted free agents (UFAs).

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Top Tier

Amari Cooper (DAL): Unrestricted Free Agent
Cooper’s overall WR14 finish in average scoring in 2019 appears better than it was when you take a more in-depth look. He posted just four weeks of top-12 scoring, and he added four more top-24 weeks. In 2018, Cooper had four WR1 weeks and three additional WR2 weeks on his way a WR21 finish.

His inconsistency during the past two seasons wasn’t a fluke. In his rookie year, he scored fewer than 10 points in seven of 16 weeks, in 2016 he five such weeks. The 2017 season was a roller coaster with eight weeks under 10 points in 14 games played. Even last season, in which Cooper had his highest fantasy points per game of his career with 15.1, he still scored less than 10 points six times. Perhaps you want to discount the fact that he scored 10 or fewer points during the 2018 season (in 15 games) based on him getting traded mid-season to the Cowboys. You could try to pin his up and down 2019 season on injuries, which limited him for most of the second half of the season. It’s just that his long history (five seasons) of boom-or-bust scoring would indicate that’s just what he is as a player.

But, Cooper is still just 25 years old despite going into his sixth season, and he hasn’t yet reached the age apex for wide receivers. Assuming that Cooper stays with Dallas, which would be best for all parties, it would be his second season in the Kellen Moore offense (who will retain play-calling duties under new Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy). Cooper elicits strong emotions in fantasy circles, and so depending upon your stance on him, it’s easy to see what you want when looking at his stats and career. He is still a strong buy for me, but if he’s not one for you, you would have no difficulty finding someone willing to pay the cost of his second-round ADP value.

Middle Tier 

Robby Anderson (NYJ): Unrestricted Free Agent
If there is one wide receiver who could benefit from a change in scenery, it’s Robby Anderson. Escaping an Adam Gase offense has already done wonders for DeVante Parker’s career. If Anderson can land on a team in need of a deep threat with 4.41 speed (#FlyEaglesFly), the 2020 season could end up being a true breakout season for him. Since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Anderson has been an elite deep threat. Using Pro-Football-Reference’s Play Index tool shows just how good Anderson has been.

Among receivers with at least 207 receptions (Anderson’s career total), Anderson’s 14.78 yards per reception ranks sixth since the 2016 season. What he’s lacked is a significant target volume. His 382 targets are just 23rd among those same players, and his 3,059 receiving yards ranks 24th. With a per game scoring average of 10.1 in 2019, Anderson has now averaged over 10 fantasy points the last three seasons, with a career-high 12.5 points per game in 2017. This comes despite the lack of targets, contending with poor quarterback play in 2017, a rookie quarterback in 2018, Sam Darnold missing three games and being tied to an Adam Gase passing attack that ranked 23rd in pass attempts per game last year. You can get Anderson for cheap in most leagues, and his reward far outweighs any risk.

Emmanuel Sanders (SF): Unrestricted Free Agent
After getting traded to the 49ers, Emmanuel Sanders initially looked like a player reborn. In his debut with the team in Week 8, he scored a touchdown while scoring 12.5 fantasy points, which would ultimately be the sixth-highest scoring week of his season. The following week, he torched Arizona for 112 yards on seven receptions and added another score on his way to scoring 24.2 fantasy points. Hopefully, you sold high after that game because Sanders scored double-digit points just once more time in the remaining eight games.

The soon-to-be-33-year-old wide receiver is the epitome of a declining asset. In the most recent Dynasty Trade Value Chart, Sanders has a value of 13, the equivalent of a mid-to-late second-round rookie pick. If he remains in San Francisco, he’ll be tying his fortunes to a passing offense whose 29.2 pass attempts per game ranked 30th during the 2019 season. If he moves to another team, he’ll have to learn the nuances of a new offense and build a rapport with another quarterback, which would be his third in a season and a half, and he’d have to do so quickly since he’s 33 years old. If you already have Sanders on a roster, you should jump at any offer that includes a second-round pick in 2020 or even 2021.

A.J. Green (CIN): Unrestricted Free Agent
Unless A.J. Green falls to the 10th round or later, or is offered to me in exchange for a late 2020 rookie second-round pick, I’m avoiding him in fantasy. After missing seven games in 2018, he missed the entire 2019 season due to an ankle injury suffered on the very first practice of training camp. Per Sports Injury Predictor, the soon to be 32-year-old has a 53.6% of injury in the coming 2020 season. Barring something completely unforeseen, Green will play with a starting quarterback other than Andy Dalton for the first time in his career next year. He’ll also be playing in an offensive scheme he’s never played or practiced in whether he returns to Cincinnati or moves on to another franchise. Can Green surprise me and return his previous form in 2020 and beyond? It’s possible, but unlikely. I don’t like gambling on things that are unlikely to happen. If you already roster Green, you’re best served to hold onto him because his potential production outweighs the return you’ll receive in a trade.

Breshad Perriman (TB): Unrestricted Free Agent
For the second season in a row, Breshad Perriman saved his best for last. With Cleveland, Perriman averaged 10.9 fantasy points per game over the final four games of the season. After the Browns, Perriman moved on to Tampa Bay to replace DeSean Jackson, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Quiet for most of the season, Perriman’s production exploded after the Buccaneers lost Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to hamstring injuries. Below are his splits from weeks 1-12 and weeks 13-17.

Games Played Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Fantasy Points per Game
9 32 11 139 1 3.6
5 37 25 506 5 21.2

When given the opportunity, Perriman produced. With 4.24 speed and 6’2″, 215 lb frame, he would fit in well with any offense looking for a deep threat that can also be used as an intermediate weapon. If he remains in Tampa Bay, his opportunities will be limited because of target hogs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Moving onto another team would benefit Perriman’s fantasy value, which is currently equivalent to a rookie third-round pick.  At that price point, Perriman is a player I’m looking to buy.

Low Tier 

Devin Funchess (IND): Unrestricted Free Agent
Since his 12.2 points per game in 2017, things have not gone well for Devin Funchess. Given a shot to establish himself as the lead receiver for the Panthers in 2018, he face-planted and was completely phased out of the offense by the end of that season. He stepped into what initially looked like a great spot in Indianapolis, but lost Andrew Luck to retirement before the 2019 season, then broke his collarbone in Week 1 and couldn’t make it back into the field. As a low-end roster stash or a trade throw-in, he’s fine, but don’t expect much from him.

Randall Cobb (DAL): Unrestricted Free Agent
Cobb provided six weeks of fantasy value in 2019. He’s nothing more than a throw-in piece in larger trades.

Demarcus Robinson (KC): Unrestricted Free Agent
I don’t expect Robinson to break out in his fifth season. Outside of a Week 2 explosion when he notched six receptions, 172 yards, and two touchdowns, nothing he’s shown thus far indicates that he’ll ever provide any significant production.

Danny Amendola (DET): Unrestricted Free Agent
Amendola had 11 weeks in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons when he scored fewer than 10 fantasy points. I’ll pass on any Amendola shares rather than trying to determine which week will fall into the 29% of the time he’s worth starting.

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Shane Manila is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Shane, check out his archive and follow him @DFF_Shane.