Bounce Back Wide Receivers (2020 Fantasy Football)
Every year in fantasy football, there are inevitably players that will underperform. It could be due to a personal injury or an injury to another integral player on the team, it could be because of coaching or scheme changes, or it could be that a player just flat out isn’t as good as we thought he was. Regardless of the reason, players will underperform. The following season, we have to take all of these underperformers and make an assessment on whether they continue to decline or if they’ll actually bounce back.
Some of the greatest most recent bounce-back seasons include Adrian Peterson, who finished 2011 as the RB15 and tore his ACL in week 13 only to come back in 2012 and finish as the RB1 with 2,097 rushing yards. In 2016, an up and coming DeAndre Hopkins was stymied by the quarterback play of Brock Osweiler and finished as the WR27, but when Deshaun Watson came to town in 2017, he blew up and finished that year as the WR1. Most recently, Allen Robinson had two forgotten seasons in a row in 2017 and 2018 due to bad quarterback play and injury, but in 2019 he became the focal point of the Bears offense and despite Mitch Trubisky throwing him the ball, he finished as the WR7, cracking WR1 territory for the first time since 2015.
These might be extreme examples, but it happens every year to some extent. In this article, I’m going look at the wide receivers who have the best chance at pulling off a bounce-back season in 2020.
Odell Beckham Jr. (WR – NYG)
Odell Beckham Jr. took the league by storm as a rookie and reached 1,300 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. In the three seasons since then, however, his production has been extremely disappointing, and many fantasy owners are completely jumping ship. First, it was an injury, then it was the declining play of Eli Manning, but then he wound up on the offensively loaded Browns with a second-year Barker Mayfield who was coming off of a promising rookie season. When he didn’t return to elite form in his first season in Cleveland, the excuses started to run out. Despite the change of scenery, Beckham had career lows in receptions per game, yards per game, and catch percentage, but I believe he can bounce back in 2020.
Since Beckham entered the league in 2014, he’s averaging 12.7 fantasy points per game, second only to Antonio Brown. That stat alone makes me want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but what else is changing? The biggest positive change for the Browns’ offense is their upgraded offensive line. They brought Jack Conklin in as a free agent to play right tackle and picked Jedrick Wills 10th overall in the 2020 NFL draft to play on the left side. A little more time would help Baker Mayfield considerably, as he had a passer rating of just 62 when under pressure and had the 13th most under pressure dropbacks in the league.
A couple more things Beckham has in his favor this season is a new coach in Kevin Stefanski (the Freddie Kitchens experiment was a trainwreck) and a “100% healthy” body. Beckham has said that he was dealing with a sports hernia all of last season that was never really spoken about, but that after surgery and recovery, he’s 100% healthy now. With an upgrade at offensive line and coach, a completely healthy body, a year of chemistry with Mayfield, and the fact that just a couple years ago he was arguably the most talented receiver in the league, I’m not sleeping on Odell Beckham Jr. in 2020.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR – PIT)
After the departure of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, JuJu Smith-Schuster was primed to be the alpha dog of the Steelers offense in 2019. He was going early in the second round in most fantasy leagues but his season turned out to be a disaster. Ben Roethlisberger got injured in the second game of the season, and Smith-Schuster had a combination of Mason Rudolph and Develin Hodges throwing him the ball the rest of the way. He also missed a four-game stretch due to injury from weeks 12 – 15. After the first three weeks of the season, Smith-Schuster only had one game with 80+ receiving yards and scored only two touchdowns.
If Roethlisberger can come back healthy, Smith-Schuster will return to form. In 2018, playing alongside Antonio Brown, he managed to rack up 166 targets, 111 receptions, 1,426 yards, and seven touchdowns. Imagine the opportunity he’s going to get when his only competition for volume is James Washington and Diontae Johnson. Both are promising young players but are entirely unproven, and neither have the chemistry that Smith-Schuster has with Roethlisberger. In Roethlisberger’s last two full seasons, he was first and second in the league in pass attempts per game despite the Steelers flaunting a top-10 defense, so we know he’s going to throw the ball. Smith-Schuster commanded a 24.5% target share with Antonio Brown on the field, and if he bumps that up just a percentage point or two, he could easily lead the league in targets in 2020.
Adam Thielen (WR – MIN)
Adam Thielen was another guy who suffered from both injury and lack of production in 2019, He missed six games in the second half of the season, but even when he was on the field, his production was nothing like it used to be. His three receptions and 41.8 yards per game were less than half of the weekly numbers he was putting up in 2018. A big reason for Thielen’s subpar production was the Vikings’ dedication to the run game. Kirk Cousins threw only 444 passes last year, that’s 96 fewer passes he’s ever thrown since becoming a full-time starter in 2015. Through the first seven games of the season (before Thielen’s injury), Cousins was just 21st in the league in pass attempts. In the second half of the season though, Cousins let it fly a bit more frequently, throwing at least 30 passes in six of his last seven games.
Thielen is going to be the unquestioned number one option in the passing game for the first time in his career, at least to start the 2020 season. He and Stefon Diggs had previously been considered a 1a, 1b pairing, but with Diggs leaving for Buffalo, Thielen’s biggest competition will be rookie Justin Jefferson. While Jefferson was drafted in the first round and is expected to contribute early and make an immediate impact, the offseason during the COVID-19 epidemic has been different. Rookies are having smaller training camp experience and potentially zero preseason exposure. It’s likely going to take rookies a bit longer this year to gel with their new teams and a higher level of play. Next in line after Jefferson, the Vikings have Tajae Sharpe and Olabisi Johnson, so Cousins is going to look Thielen’s way early and often.
Brandin Cooks (WR – HOU)
Before Brandin Cooks’ awful 2019 campaign, he had strung together four seasons in a row of 1,000+ receiving yards on three different teams. Last year, the Rams dropped from the second-ranked offense in the league that easily supported the fantasy value of Cooks (WR13), Robert Woods (WR10), and Cooper Kupp when he was healthy (WR11 in the eight games he played), to the 11th ranked offense in 2019. That’s not a bad ranking, but Cooks became the odd man out, dropping from 75.3 yards per game to 41.6.
In 2020 he’s on a new team with an upgrade at quarterback and has the potential to establish himself as the number one option. Will Fuller has been a productive receiver when on the field, but he’s missed 20 games over the past three seasons and his health has always been an issue. Cooks, on the other hand, has only missed two games in the last five years. In Cooks’ four productive seasons, he only had a target percentage above 20% in 2018, so he doesn’t need massive volume to become fantasy relevant. Deshaun Watson supported Deandre Hopkins as the WR5 in 2019 and the WR3 in 2018. Cooks is obviously no Hopkins, but being Watson’s number one receiver has a very high ceiling.
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