While it’s important to hit with your late-round sleepers and lottery tickets, it’s just as important to avoid early-round landmines in fantasy football drafts. To help on the latter front, our writers are here to provide wide receivers to avoid based on their current rankings in our expert consensus.
Q: Which wide receivers are you least likely to draft at their current ranking?
DeAndre Hopkins (ARI): WR6
DeAndre Hopkins heads west to join Kliff Kingsbury’s and Kyler Murray’s “Arizona Raid” offense in 2020. After experiencing a minor setback in 2016, Hopkins quickly reestablished himself as one of the best wide receivers in the game over the past three years. Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien made a habit out of force-feeding his alpha receiver, as he averaged 10.6 targets per game since 2017. Across those 46 games since 2017, no player in the NFL was the beneficiary of a larger target share than Hopkins.
Here are Hopkins’ targets, the total targets for the Texans, and Hopkins’ target share in the Texans’ offense:
On top of his ridiculous target share in Houston, Hopkins never played with another receiver that truly commanded a healthy diet of targets since 2017:
With Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk looking to bounce back in Year Two of Kingsbury’s offense, I have an extremely difficult time projecting Hopkins to replicate his out-of-this-world target share from his days in Houston and Bill O’Brien’s offense. Must I remind you, Fitzgerald is only 171 receptions away from tying Jerry Rice for the all-time lead in receptions. Make no mistake about it, the Arizona Cardinals organization wants to reward their best player in franchise history by helping him achieve this NFL landmark that not too long ago, was considered completely unattainable. With Fitzgerald averaging 94 receptions per year over the last five seasons, the Bay Area GOAT is within striking distance.
Hopkins is currently going off the board as the WR5 with an ADP of 11, so folks are clearly still chasing the Houston Hopkins ghost of yesteryear and his abnormal target share despite his new digs. Personally, I won’t hesitate in selecting Julio Jones (ADP of 14) and/or Travis Kelce (ADP of 17) over Hopkins. Jones and Kelce are locked into their respective familiar situations and present far more clarity for their 2020 outlook.
– Rob Searles (@RobBob17)
Historically, when a WR1 moves to a new team, it’s not good for their fantasy production. In the last 12 years, there has only been three occassions of a WR1 changing teams and still repeating as a WR1 the following year: Brandin Cooks (2016-17), Brandon Marshall (2011-12), and Vincent Jackson (2011-12). That makes Cooks the only player to accomplish this in the last eight years. I’m not saying it’s impossible for Hopkins, just that it’s highly improbable when you consider that he saw 94 targets from Week 7 on, a stretch that saw Will Fuller only log 23 targets due to injuries.
I still think Nuk will be a stud, but I can’t draft him as the WR6 at the moment. At least not when the receiver pool is so deep and there are many talented running backs are going off the board around him. The likes of Travis Kelce and George Kittle are strong options in this range as well. I’m a huge believer in quarterback and wide receiver chemistry, and Kyler may need some time to gel with Hopkins.
– Josh Dalley (@JoshDalley72)
When optimizing draft strategies, you must consider ADP and opportunity cost. It’s not simply about the specific round in which you draft a player, but also what you give up in the process. For this reason, DeAndre Hopkins is the receiver that I’m least likely to draft at his current ADP. Although he’s one of the best pass-catchers in the league and is moving to a more innovative and pass-heavy offense, he also carries significant risk for his WR4 (11 overall) ADP in half PPR. For instance, Hopkins has seen massive target numbers each year since his rookie season, with the lowest being 127 in 2014. In fact, last year was his lowest target total since his rookie season, and he still had 150 across 15 games (with just 11.2 yards per reception). If this number were to fall in Arizona, it’d be extremely difficult for him to return value on the investment.
Lastly, and as I alluded to previously, Hopkins’ high draft capital also forces you to virtually pass on some high-upside running backs like Miles Sanders, Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Nick Chubb, and Austin Ekeler, or even premier fantasy tight ends like Travis Kelce and George Kittle. Most of these guys may very well be available throughout the second round. Regardless of which position I target in the first round, selecting one of these second-tier running backs or tight ends and then focusing on receivers in the middle rounds is a much more appealing strategy.
– Jared Lese (@JaredL_FF)
Mike Evans (TB): WR8
Mike Evans is a fantastic talent. He is a huge receiver with great downfield playmaking ability. He averaged 17.3 yards per reception last year and 17.7 yards per reception in 2018. He scored eight touchdowns both seasons. He is the perfect complement to Chris Godwin, who can run the entire route tree and is the most targeted player in the offense.
The problem is not Evans, the problem is Tom Brady’s skill set at this point in his career. Brady is 43 years old, and at some point, his play will regress. I think that we saw some of that decline last year. Brady averaged only 6.6 yards per pass attempt and completed only 60.8 percent of his passes. He had a quarterback rating of just 88.0. I don’t doubt that the Tampa Bay supporting cast is an upgrade from what he played with last year, and some of Brady’s decline had to do with mediocre wide receivers and tight ends. However, even if Brady does rebound with a stronger supporting cast, it’s been a long time since he had a receiver like Evans. In recent years, Brady has relied on running backs, slot wide receivers, and tight ends to move the ball downfield in the short passing game.
Evans seems to be graded at his ceiling as the ninth-ranked fantasy wide receiver. There is no room for Brady to be an above-average player, to focus on the short passing game more than the deep passing game, or to suffer an injury that causes missed games. Evans would need to have about 210 fantasy points to justify that ranking, and I’m just not willing to use a top-25 pick for the deep threat on an offense that might not throw the ball deep very much.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Evans is an excellent receiver, and he’s finished no lower than the PPR WR24 each season since his rookie year in 2014. With that said, he scares me from a weekly consistency standpoint, as a large percentage of his fantasy scoring comes from chunk plays and touchdowns. Evans’ top three PPR performances in 2019 accounted for 53 percent of his season output, and while he still finished as the PPR WR15, he went for fewer than 15 PPR points in eight of 13 contests. Jameis Winston had the second-highest aDOT last season, but newcomer Tom Brady ranked 23rd, meaning that Evans is unlikely to see as much action in the downfield passing game as he has in years past.
Even if Evans secures more work in the short-yardage game, I don’t see him commanding nearly as many easy targets as budding star Chris Godwin or Brady bro Rob Gronkowski. Evans sits one spot behind D.J. Moore and one spot ahead of Adam Thielen in our PPR rankings, and I don’t envision a scenario where I’m selecting him over either of those guys. In PPR, I’d also prefer Cooper Kupp or Robert Woods to Evans, both of whom rank multiple spots below the Bucs receiver.
– Daniel Comer (@DanComer404)
A.J. Brown (TEN): WR11
I liken the “last four weeks” tab on fantasy football websites to those digital boards that casinos place near the roulette wheel — the ones that display which numbers recently hit. Why? Because in both cases, if you base your decisions on what they tell you, you’ll often end your day feeling disappointed. Take the case of A.J. Brown: the Titans’ 2019 second-round pick was the best receiver in fantasy from Weeks 12-17, which is causing his stock to surge in 2020. Brown is within the top-20 ranked wide receivers in most lists, which gives him a late third/early fourth-round ADP. But was his late-season stretch actually a sign of things to come in the year ahead? Or was it just inevitable randomness — a streaky series of data points that, if it had occurred in Weeks 8-13, would have been long forgotten by experts and enthusiasts alike?
Here’s the case for the latter (and yes, I’ll throw out the first six weeks of the season, before Ryan Tannehill took the helm). In Weeks 12-17 of 2019, A.J. Brown averaged a mere 6.5 targets per game — just about one more target per game than he was averaging in the first month (Weeks 7-10) of playing with Tannehill. Compare that to the other receivers that finished in the top-five in fantasy from Weeks 12-17 (Michael Thomas, DeVante Parker, Breshad Perriman, and Davante Adams): those pass-catchers averaged 9.8 targets per game in the span, a figure that actually resembles the WR1 status we seem to be giving Brown. In fact, of all wide receivers currently ranked in the top 30 in 2020 (and that played at least thirteen games in 2019) no receiver had fewer targets last season than A.J. Brown.
Remember, during his six-week hot streak A.J. only caught 25 passes, total: it just so happened that (an unsustainable) 20 percent of them went for touchdowns. For some perspective, if Michael Thomas had that kind of touchdown efficiency in 2019, he would have finished the season with 30 scores. Plus, in four of six games during that stretch, Brown recorded a reception of at least 50 yards — he did more with less than, perhaps, any other receiver in 2019. And if you’re buying this notion that he and Tannehill “found their groove,” consider that in three games in the postseason, Brown’s stat line was 5-64-0. No, that wasn’t a per-game average — A.J. hauled in five total playoff catches. If those three weeks had occurred to end the regular season — and, thus, were included in 2019 fantasy totals — I feel confident betting you that his 2020 ranking would not be where it is today.
Tennessee ran the ball at the fourth-highest percentage of any team in 2019. They were a run-first offense, and that doesn’t appear to be changing in 2020. Now, this doesn’t mean that WR1s don’t have value in run-first offenses — but do you really want to pay tomorrow’s prices for last year’s production? Consider another run-first offense, Seattle, which also prominently featured a rookie wide receiver in 2019. D.K. Metcalf had four more catches than Brown last season; he had one less receiving touchdown; he had 151 less receiving yards. But Metcalf is being selected, on average, about two rounds later than Brown. I would love Brown if he was being drafted where Metcalf is in 2020. Curse you (again), recency bias.
– David Giardino (@davidgiardino)
Stefon Diggs (BUF): WR27
As a fellow Maryland Terrapin, I have become a big fan of Stefon Diggs. He is incredible, but unfortunately for fantasy managers, his landing spot in Buffalo is less than ideal. His new quarterback, Josh Allen, only attempted 461 passes in 2019 compared to 109 rushing attempts. Buffalo drafted Zack Moss to fill the void left by Frank Gore. Because of their stout defense, the Bills field a run-first offense, proven by their 465 carries last season. They ran the ball more than they threw it in a league where we’re seeing the trend go in the opposite direction. They’re winning games by playing smash-mouth football.
Now add Diggs to the mix. John Brown and Cole Beasley have already built a nice rapport with Allen, as they combined for 219 targets last season. Even with Adam Thielen missing six games last season, Diggs only finished as the WR24 in PPR. Like in Minnesota, he joins a run-first offense with two already established WRs that he will compete with for targets. For those reasons, I’ll pass on Diggs as the ECR’s WR27 and instead go with guys who have more upside and less competition for targets, such as D.K. Metcalf, DeVante Parker, or Tyler Boyd.
– Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler)
Christian Kirk (ARI): WR38
Christian Kirk’s current ECR of WR38 is befuddling. Last season, as Kyler Murray’s number one weapon, Kirk ranked 36th amongst wide receivers in fantasy points-per-game. That was on a 24.5% target share. That was before DeAndre Hopkins arrived. Kirk’s target share will undoubtedly take a hit this season, as Hopkins has commanded a staggering 31% target share since 2015. Hopkins’ target share will come down, but Kirk will still feel the effects of Nuk’s addition.
While some receivers are able to produce with limited volume, there are red flags to recognize with Kirk. In his first season with Kyler Murray, Kirk’s worryingly low average depth of target of only 9.6 yards raises doubts about his ability to produce with low target totals. Furthermore, Kirk has not shown an ability to bail himself out with touchdowns, as he has not topped three scores in either of his two NFL seasons. The Cardinals may throw the ball more often this season than last and Kirk is unlikely to become irrelevant, but the same can be said for Larry Fitzgerald and the 20.6% target share he was afforded last year. Kenyan Drake drew a 14.6% target share after his acquisition and his presence adds further competition for targets. With three wide receivers expected to be legitimately involved, plus a capable pass-catching running back in Drake, it’s clear that Kirk will be hard-pressed to repeat last season’s production.
There is a real chance that Kirk still manages to top 100 targets this season, but without increased efficiency, he is unlikely to accumulate the type of yardage required to overcome his limited touchdown potential. With questions surrounding his expected volume baked into an already underwhelming ceiling, Kirk should be passed over for receivers with more upside.
– Mark McWhirter (@mmcw19)
DeVante Parker (MIA): WR24
As I have said in previous articles, I am not buying into DeVante Parker’s breakout season. After disappointing fantasy owners in the first four years of his career, Parker finally broke out in 2019. He had 72 catches for 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 games last season. Parker had only hit paydirt nine times in his first four seasons. The 27-year-old is currently the 24th ranked receiver in the latest expert consensus ranking. Parker did most of his damage in 2019 after Preston Williams was sidelined. In eight games with Williams, Parker totaled 28 catches for 400 yards with four touchdowns on 52 targets. Without Williams, Parker caught 44 receptions for 802 yards and five touchdowns on 76 targets. He established rapport with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second half of last year, but the Dolphins are expected to start rookie Tua Tagovailoa in 2020. With the expected quarterback change and the return of Williams from injury, I would prefer to have D.K. Metcalf, T.Y. Hilton, D.J. Chark, and Terry McLaurin, who are all ranked a few spots below Parker in the latest consensus ranking.
– Brad Camara (@Beerad30)
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