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Do Not Draft List: Wide Receiver (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jul 10, 2020

I recently highlighted a pair of running backs who are on my do-not-draft list, and now I’m turning my attention to the receiver position. Below, I start off by reiterating my suggestion from back in April to fade a pair of consistently excellent receivers. Then I turn my attention to a pair of fresh faces at the position, starting with a stud who has to adjust to playing with a new quarterback and faces added competition for targets, especially in the red zone. I’ll conclude with a slot monster who might be forced to win matchups outside more often this year.

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DeAndre Hopkins (WR – ARI): ADP — 10.0, WR3
Keenan Allen (WR – LAC): ADP — 47.5, WR20
Back in April, I discussed DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen as fades in best-ball formats, and I provided in-depth analysis as to why I’m down on both this year relative to their average draft position (ADP). The analysis there applies to traditional season-long formats, too, and you can check out that piece here. The short version of why I’m fading this duo is that I’m skeptical of Hopkins retaining the massive target share he enjoyed in Houston, and I harbor concerns about Allen’s outlook with Tyrod Taylor, given the latter’s track record for underutilizing receivers.

Mike Evans (WR – TB): ADP — 25.3, WR8
Make no mistake, Evans is an elite receiver. He’s bested 1,000 receiving yards in each of his six seasons, and he’s caught eight or more touchdowns in four seasons. Having said that, drafting him as a top-10 receiver is too rich for my blood in the 2020 season. His inclusion here is a product of my preference for what I look for from a top-10 receiver, as well as some red flags that give me pause for pulling the trigger on him.

First, if I’m drafting a top-10 receiver and spending a pick in the top three rounds of fantasy drafts on a wideout, I’m looking for high-end production and consistency. Evans is certainly capable of high-end production, but week-to-week consistency is a different story. The soon-to-be 27-year old receiver is a boom-or-bust producer with huge spike weeks and duds sprinkled in. To that end, he tallied 36.4% of his targets, 46.3% of his receptions, 49.1% of his receiving yards, and 75% of his touchdown receptions in three of 13 games last year. His good weeks are legitimate week-winning showings, but he fell short of 65 receiving yards in five contests, too. A large part of the reason for his volatility in production is his usage, which is one of the red flags for him in 2020.

Among receivers and tight ends targeted at least 50 times last year, Evans’ average depth of target of 15.2 yards was tied for the fifth-deepest depth, according to Sports Info Solutions. The following table shows Evans’ rank in average depth of target among receivers and tight ends targeted at least 50 times annually going back to 2015 (the earliest available year of data at Sports Info Solutions).

Year Average Depth of Target Rank
2015 14.8 yards T-8th
2016 14.9 yards T-5th
2017 13.6 yards T-18th
2018 15.7 yards 4th
2019 15.2 yards T-5th

His deep-ball usage means big gains and fantasy points on receptions, but they’re also lower completion percentage throws. There’s another concern with his deep ball usage next year, though.

Evans could also suffer from the team’s free-agent addition of Tom Brady. That’s not meant as a knock on Brady, rather it’s reflective of his passing tendencies the last couple of years. Brady’s average intended air yards per pass attempt last year was 7.6 yards downfield, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That mark was 12th-lowest among qualified quarterbacks.

Comparatively, Jameis Winston’s average intended air yards per attempt of 10.5 yards was second-deepest. Brady’s average intended air yards per attempt of 7.7 yards downfield ranked in the middle of the pack in 2018. If you’re looking for a cause for optimism, in 2017, Brady’s intended air yards per attempt was 9.0 yards and ranked 12th. Perhaps his shorter targets the last couple years are more a product of the personnel he’s had to work with than a reflection of him losing some arm strength in the twilight of his career. Still, there are other concerns.

Among those concerns is that Evans may have to adjust to catching passes from a new quarterback in an unusual offseason. Perhaps this concern is misguided, as Brady’s reportedly been throwing passes to some of his pass-catchers — Evans included — dating back to May. However, another concern is that Evans could face competition for targets from one of Brady’s top weapons in the passing attack of all time, Rob Gronkowski.

It’s anyone’s guess what Gronk will look like after a year off from football. Perhaps he’ll have some extra pep in his step after looking diminished — yet still productive — when he last played in 2018. Even a diminished Gronk could siphon some looks away from incumbents Chris Godwin and Evans. Further, Gronk poses a threat to Evans’ volume of looks in the red zone.

Last year, Evans’ 18 targets in the red zone were tied for the 13th most, according to Lineups. Gronk accounted for eight red-zone targets in 13 games played in his last season (2018). In 2017, though, Gronk’s 21 red-zone targets were tied for the third most and represent Brady’s affinity for cutting it loose to his trusty tight end in scoring territory when he’s right. Add everything up, and I wouldn’t be comfortable drafting Evans as more than a high-end WR2 (WR13-WR16 territory). It seems highly unlikely he’ll slip that far in any of my drafts given his track record and the buzz around the Brady-led Bucs.

Cooper Kupp (WR – LAR): ADP — 39.0, WR15
Last year in point per reception (PPR) formats, Kupp finished sixth in fantasy scoring among receivers during the standard fantasy season (Week 1 through Week 16) and ranked eighth in per-game scoring, according to our Fantasy Football Leaders tool. His quarterback, head coach, and offensive coordinator remain the same, and the offense has one less prominent mouth to feed after trading Brandin Cooks to the Texans. At first blush, Kupp actually appears to be a value after performing as a WR1 in 2019.

As you’ve probably deduced by his inclusion in this piece, there’s more than meets the eye here. For starters, anyone who rostered Kupp last year is familiar with his sizable dip in production down the stretch. The Rams were on bye in Week 9, and from Week 1 through Week 8, Kupp ranked second in PPR points among receivers and third in fantasy points per game. From Week 10 through Week 17, Kupp ranked just 21st in PPR scoring and 33rd in per-game scoring. Even if you eliminate Duke Williams’ one game and Alshon Jeffery’s two games played during the Week 10 through Week 17 stretch, Kupp would’ve still ranked an underwhelming 31st in per-game scoring.

It’s possible this is random variance in scoring, but that seems unlikely given the radical personnel usage change by the Rams in the second half of the season. From Week 1 through Week 8, the Rams used 11-personnel (one back, one tight end, and three receivers) on 80% of their plays and used 12-personnel (one back, two tight ends, and two receivers) just 11% of the time, per Sharp Football Stats. From Week 10 through Week 17, the Rams used 11-personnel just 67% of the time and utilized 12-personnel 30% of the time. The change to using two tight ends more frequently was a double whammy for Kupp’s fantasy value.

First, his playing time dipped. As you can see on our snap counts leaderboard page, he saw a downturn in playing time toward the end of the season. Second, two tight ends on the field will force him to play a perimeter role more often instead of his familiar slot gig. He played the slot 65.5% of the time last year, according to PlayerProfiler. Further, he’s excelled from the slot, as you can see in the following pair of tweets.

If the Rams continue to use 12-personnel as they did in the second half of last year, and reading the tea leaves suggests they will, then Kupp’s going to have to demonstrate he can win on the outside and not just feast from the slot. I’m bearish on the idea of Kupp regularly winning on the outside after seeing Matt Harmon’s reception perception information regarding Kupp’s success — or lack thereof — against various coverage types.

Kupp eats against zone coverage, but he struggles against man and press coverage. Back in June of 2018, Harmon found a positive correlation for snaps on the line of scrimmage and on the perimeter facing press and man coverage, as you can see in the following tweet.

Early in the offseason — especially after the Rams dealt Cooks — I was fully enamored with Kupp. After digging deeper, he’s made his way onto my do-not-draft list at anywhere near his current cost. He serves as a great reminder to me to avoid digging my heels in on a player and be open to having my mind changed with more information. Barring a total nosedive in ADP, Kupp won’t be on my rosters in 2020.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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