Impact Rookie Wide Receivers (2020 Fantasy Football)
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Every offseason, redraft owners scramble to identify the top rookies. Focusing on the players drafted in the first round is one strategy, but every year there are running backs and receivers drafted on Day Two, and sometimes even Day Three, that will make an impact in their first year. It’s often easy to identify which running backs may hit in their first seasons, but identifying wide receivers is often the tougher proposition.
While there are over 20 rookie receivers that could make an impact this season, we’ll focus on the 12 receivers most likely to make a fantasy impact as a rookie. Let’s get started.
Jerry Jeudy (WR – DEN)
58 available targets
Jerry Jeudy appears set for a huge rookie season. A route running savant who can get open at will, Jeudy has massive PPR and half-PPR upside. Courtland Sutton is a very talented wide receiver who will often occupy opponents’ top corners, something that will allow Jeudy to regularly roast unsuspecting number two corners, slot corners, or linebackers. He should regularly see valuable slot action in three-wide sets, an area where his dominant route running will help him to create even more separation. He has been working out with Drew Lock on a daily basis, which should provide for immediate returns in redraft leagues. While many may not admit it, Jeudy has the route-running and possession receiver skills to lead Denver in receptions as a rookie.
There are only 58 available targets from last year’s offense, but it would be a surprise if Jeudy did not see 100-plus targets in 2020. At 49th in ECR and at 48th in ADP, Jerry Jeudy is a name all redraft owners should know.
Michael Pittman (WR – IND)
118 available targets
Rookie receiver Michael Pittman looks to have a leg up on the number two receiver duties in Indianapolis. An exciting receiver with day one tape and numbers, Michael Pittman has the skill and perceived opportunity to be the number one rookie producer at the wide receiver position. It’s true that the Colts drafted Parris Campbell in the third round just last season, but Pittman is the superior talent, and he’s more advanced as an outside receiver.
The Colts have 118 targets available from last year’s squad, and while Pittman may not soak up all of those looks, he has a very good chance to come close. At worst, he should provide Mike Williams level upside as a boom-or-bust receiver with weekly touchdown upside. At best, he is a 100-plus target receiver who hauls in more passes than T.Y. Hilton. T.Y. should still lead the team in yardage, but don’t be surprised if Pittman sees a target share above 20 percent in 2020. At 63rd in ECR and 67th in ADP, Pittman is one of the favorites to hit the 1,000 receiving yard mark as a rookie.
Jalen Reagor (WR – PHI)
128 available targets
Depth chart concerns and a lack of OTA puff pieces have kept Jalen Reagor’s ECR (62) and ADP (59) low, but he has massive upside, even as a rookie. He’ll be a starter in three-wide sets, and he should rotate snaps with DeSean Jackson when the team goes to 12 personnel. Reagor should be good for at least 800 receiving yards this season and will be used in a variety of ways on offense. While he will run a lot of go routes as a rookie, he should also see heavy usage on screens, outs, and hitch routes.
The Eagles are likely to treat Reagor as more of a playmaker than a strict downfield, clear out threat. There are 128 targets available in the Eagles’ offense, but the overall target distribution — and the distribution by position — is expected to look very different in 2020. Reagor has WR2 upside, and he should be ranked there at times this season. Drafted in WR5 territory, Reagor could easily post WR3 numbers, making him an impact rookie who is currently going for a pittance.
Justin Jefferson (WR – MIN)
110 available targets
Justin Jefferson looks set to make an immediate impact as a rookie. Drafted in the first round to serve as Minnesota’s new number two receiver, Jefferson may snare most of the 110 targets available in the Vikings offense. Stefon Diggs’ departure leaves a massive void to fill on offense, but it remains to be seen who will be manning his role on the outside.
Jefferson was dominant in the slot in college (109 receptions, 1,514 receiving yards, and 18 touchdowns on slot snaps in 2019), and he could instantly push for WR1-level numbers if he logs the majority of his snaps there this season. He also seems to have the ability to win on the outside, but the slot is where he would really thrive. Regardless of where he lines up, the opportunity in terms of depth chart and role suggests Jefferson should be a near every-down player. He should surpass 750 receiving yards on the season, but he has the potential for much more. It will be interesting to see what the Vikings plan to do in terms of slot snap percentage for Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, two receivers who are far better players on the inside, as it will directly impact the statistical upside and efficiency of both players. At 54th in ECR and 53rd in ADP, Jefferson should easily outperform his current ranking and average draft position.
Henry Ruggs (WR – LV)
68 targets available
Henry Ruggs was the first wide receiver drafted in 2020, and he’s all but certain to make an instantaneous impact. Like the names above him, he has massive upside not only as a fantasy receiver but as a receiver in general. Ruggs is a less physical Tyreek Hill-like weapon with better hands and red-zone chops. Only the creativity of Jon Gruden could limit him as a rookie, but with the Raiders playing in the same division as the Chiefs’ wideout, they have had a front-row seat to the different ways that Kansas City uses their mercurial receiver.
Ruggs is an intriguing receiver who should see a lot of go routes, but he should also be involved underneath on screens, slants, crosses, and in routes. He has good release from the line of scrimmage, and he should be able to become a consistent fantasy option with Tyrell Williams operating in more of a deep threat specialist role. Bryan Edwards may eventually push him to become the number one receiver, but it will likely be Williams and Hunter Renfrow with whom he shares the field in standard three-wide sets to open the season. Ruggs has 1,000 receiving yard upside as a rookie (he should have multiple 100-yard receiving games), and his speed on the aforementioned slants, crosses, and in routes is almost impossible to defend. A boom or bust WR3 option with an ECR of 56 and an ADP of 54, Ruggs will be a major riser in both of these categories by kickoff of the regular season.
Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR – JAC)
56 available targets
A supremely talented wide receiver that will also see snaps at running back, wildcat quarterback, and tight end as a rookie, Laviska Shenault Jr. is poised to make a serious impact in 2020. The Jaguars have just 56 targets available, but Shenault will be given an opportunity to compete for the number two receiver role. His usage in the other roles mentioned above will only enhance his redraft value. Even if he puts up WR4 receiving numbers, his rushing production should vault him to WR3 territory.
Shenault’s ability to consistently pick up yards after the catch regardless of the depth of target meshes perfectly with quarterback Gardner Minshew’s skill set. Jacksonville has already stated that they will be moving Dede Westbrook into the slot, something that all but assures Shenault a starting spot in two-wide sets when healthy. Shenault should be good for 60-plus touches, 750 yards from scrimmage, and six-plus touchdowns as a rookie. At 79th in ECR and 80th in ADP, he should be able to comfortably provide WR3 value as a rookie. Pass on him late in drafts at your own peril.
Devin Duvernay (WR – BAL)
74 available targets
An explosive wide receiver with track star speed, Devin Duvernay is going to help propel the Baltimore Ravens’ offense to new heights. It’s unfair for a team that already has Marquise Brown to be able to land a talent like Duvernay. They complement each other perfectly. Duvernay was drafted to man the slot for the Ravens, but he will likely see time in two-wide sets, as Baltimore will want him on the field on all designed passing plays. He may actually end up leading the team in snaps when the 2020 season is said and done, as Marquise Brown (as the smaller receiver) may come off the field more on running downs.
A threat before and after the catch, Duvernay could very well lead the Ravens in receptions as a rookie. Currently undrafted with an ECR of 104, Duvernay projects as a WR4 with WR3 upside who can be stolen in the final round of some drafts.
CeeDee Lamb (WR – DAL)
190 available targets
CeeDee Lamb is a talented wide receiver stepping into an offense with a whopping 190 targets available. Of course, he won’t see that sort of volume by himself, but it’s notable that there are this many targets available with both of Dallas’ top two receivers returning for 2020. Lamb’s floor this season should be Randall Cobb’s numbers from last season. As the Cowboys’ number three receiver last year, Cobb saw 83 targets for 55 receptions, 828 receiving yards, and three touchdowns on 15.1 yards per reception.
Lamb is much more talented than Cobb is at this point in his career, and he should provide an upgrade on the veteran. In fact, there are many who believe that Lamb will eventually emerge as the number one receiver for Dallas, even ahead of Amari Cooper. With that being said, he will open the season as the number three. His target based role could change as the season progresses, as someone with Lamb’s skill lining up in the slot, or against constant single coverage will be hard for Dak Prescott to ignore.
Currently the number one rookie in terms of ECR (48), and ADP (43), Lamb should be able to provide at least the WR4 value his ADP suggests. He has the upside for much, much more, but comfortably projecting more than 900 receiving yards for a number three receiver in this COVID-19 affected offseason would be disingenuous. Lamb has Cooper and Michael Gallup limiting his potential upside, but make no mistake: he is going to make an immediate fantasy impact.
Brandon Aiyuk (WR – SF)
98 available targets
Brandon Aiyuk is a talented wide receiver who exploded in 2019 thanks to freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels. Aiyuk went from a Day Three type to a day one selection this past season, due in large part to his success as a deep threat and in the screen game. He is a threat after the catch, but he really shines on deep balls, as he can use his abnormally long wingspan to corral passes that someone with shorter arms wouldn’t be able to grab. His reach also gives him a distinct advantage on 50/50 balls. His 81-inch wingspan equates to that of someone just under 6’8! This sort of reach would not be surprising on someone 6’3, or 6’4, but on someone who measured at just six feet tall, it’s game-changing. To put this in context, former NBA Champion Rajon Rondo, noted for his massive arm length, has a 6’9 wingspan at 6’1 tall.
Aiyuk is a perfect fit with Jimmy Garoppolo, as he can bail Jimmy G out of throws that would likely go awry to any other receiver on the team. Aiyuk has 900 receiving yard upside as a rookie, and he should be good for five or more scores. There are 98 targets available in this offense, and while Aiyuk won’t soak up all of those by himself, other options in the offense figure to see their targets reduced. At 77 in ECR and 71st in ADP, treat Aiyuk as a high-upside WR4 who should enter the WR3 conversation by the time the fantasy playoffs roll around.
Van Jefferson (WR – LAR)
126 available targets
The son of a former NFL wide receiver, Van Jefferson already runs routes like a Pro Bowl veteran. He joins an offense with 126 available targets and has just the uninspiring Josh Reynolds to pass on the depth chart for a starting role in three-wide sets. The number three receiver role is a valuable one in this offense, so Jefferson’s path to a rookie season impact is relatively wide open. While he projects best out of the slot (most receivers do due to mismatch potential), he has the top end speed, hands, and route running skills to be an effective weapon on the outside. He has enough speed to burn, and while no one is suggesting that he would have timed with 4.3 wheels, he will be more than capable of threatening defenses on go routes.
He may open the season in a rotation with Reynolds, but his high-level route running is sure to quickly make him a favorite of Jared Goff and Sean McVay. His upside is directly tied to how many snaps he gets out of the slot per game, but even in a full time outside receiver role, Jefferson will make an impact. We can safely pencil him in for 50-plus receptions, 600-plus receiving yards, and at least four scores. He has the upside for much more, but as is the case with the entire 2020 rookie class, he may start slow due to the unusual status of the offseason. Currently 106 in ECR and 104 in ADP, Van Jefferson is a late-round flier who is destined to return sizable dividends. His redraft value is going to skyrocket when the local beat writers make it clear that he’s consistently outperformed Reynolds, so if you’re drafting early, make sure to draft and stash now instead of blowing FAAB dollars later.
Denzel Mims (WR – NYJ)
183 available targets
Denzel Mims is an interesting case. He really came on during the 2019 college season, but he was more of a Day Three type of prospect in 2018. His measurables are tantalizing, but fantasy football managers know all too well that workouts in shorts often do not translate to the NFL field. Mims is a hot commodity in dynasty leagues, but he may operate as more of a number three receiver as a rookie. He appears to have both Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder ahead of him on the depth chart, and he will also have to contend with an elite receiving running back in Le’Veon Bell. Add the return to health of Chris Herndon and the surprising Ryan Griffin, and Mims may start the season no better than sixth on the target totem pole.
With that said, he should be able to earn a large enough role to reach at least 600 or 700 receiving yards as a rookie. It’s his red-zone impact that will put him over the top into becoming a flex-worthy starter. Mims is stepping into an offense with 183 available targets, and he should garner at least 65-70 for himself. He has the upside for more, but his rapport with Sam Darnold will directly impact how often he sees the field — and how often he is targeted. He may already be the Jets’ number one red-zone weapon, so he should be a factor there regardless of snap percentage. Mims is someone to add in WR5 territory who could produce like a WR4 or even a WR3. At 72nd in ECR, but already 58th in ADP, Mims is a low-cost flier that redraft managers should remember on draft day.
Tee Higgins (WR – CIN)
64 available targets
Tee Higgins is an interesting case of talent versus opportunity. On the surface, Higgins may be blocked from having an impact role as a rookie. A.J. Green is a no-doubt starter at wideout, and Tyler Boyd has proven to be an effective slot option. John Ross is a former round one pick, and there are likely many who believe that due to his hot start last season that Ross will be able to fend off Higgins. Ross has world-class speed, but make no mistake, Higgins is already the more talented player. Ross was a first-round pick in a weak overall draft class; Higgins slipped to the second in a loaded class.
There are 64 targets available in Cincinnati’s offense, but most of those (63) came from tight end Tyler Eifert. This means that Higgins is going to have to earn his role in order to make the impact we are projecting. With that said, the Bengals declined the fifth-year option on disappointing wideout John Ross and drafted Higgins at the top of the second round for a reason. He was drafted to grow with Joe Burrow, is more talented than any Bengals receiver not named Green, and plays for a team that knows they have no chance at contending this season. As such, there is very little reason for the Bengals to keep him off the field and stunt the development between the rookie receiver and Burrow. At 76th in ECR and 61st in ADP, Higgins could prove to be a steal on draft day. He should continue to be a value for most of the summer, at least until such time as the Bengals confirm that he is in line to start in three-wide, and maybe even two-wide sets. Higgins is a name to highlight on your redraft cheat sheets.