WR3s With WR1 Potential (2020 Fantasy Football)
Every year there are players that make the largely unexpected jump up the depth chart and fantasy rankings to help managers win championships. Whether through injury or ineffectiveness ahead of them, players will return immense value based on average draft position. We know this will be the case. The trick is identifying which players will make the jump. Today, we’re looking at wide receivers that are currently being drafted as WR3s that our writers feel can ascend into WR1 territory this season.
Q: Which current WR3 based on ECR has the best chance to finish as a WR1 for the 2020 season?
Brandin Cooks (HOU): WR36
One wide receiver who has been basically left for dead and completely overlooked is Brandin Cooks, now with the Houston Texans. Cooks is entering his seventh season in the NFL and is already on his fourth NFL team. Over that time, he has only missed six full games, despite the constant idea that he’s injury-prone due to his past concussions. Cooks has finished as the WR13, WR15, WR10, and WR13 with three of those seasons being on different teams. He’s shown that, regardless of the system, he’s able to put up low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 numbers.
With DeAndre Hopkins out of Houston, the Texans have 150 targets available from his departure alone. The wide receiver group consists of Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, and Cooks. Deshaun Watson has finished as the QB4 in each of his last two seasons. He’s thrown for right around 500 times each year with just under 4,000 passing yards in 2019, just over 4,000 passing yards in 2018, and 26 passing touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. Watson is an elite fantasy quarterback option, and he should be a high-end option once again in 2020 despite losing arguably the NFL’s most talented wide receiver. Cooks is being severely overlooked. Given his track record, I wouldn’t be too shocked if he puts up some very nice fantasy numbers in 2020. Finishing as a WR1 in 2020 is definitely a stretch, but when you’re looking for upside in this WR30 range in your fantasy drafts, I’d keep my eye on Cooks.
– Aaron Schill (aaron_schill)
Why is Deshaun Watson’s best receiver so overlooked? I guess because being undervalued has defined Brandin Cooks’ career. All he has done is catch at least 65 passes, rack up at least 1,082 receiving yards, and score at least five touchdowns from 2015-18 before a concussion-plagued 2019 season. Yet here he is joining his third different team in four seasons. However, you could argue he’s in a better situation than he was in Los Angeles. He’ll go from competing with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp for targets to battling the oft-injured Will Fuller as the primary threat. And while very few players can beat Fuller in terms of downfield speed, Cooks basically does everything else better. The concussions that plagued Cooks last season are a concern, but if he stays healthy I could absolutely see a top-12 season as Watson’s primary target in a Houston offense that may throw the ball a ton.
– Matt Barbato (@RealMattBarbato)
The Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins this offseason, leaving a huge void at wide receiver and 150 targets up for grabs in Houston. To try and replace Hopkins as the No. 1 WR, Houston traded a second-round pick for Brandin Cooks. Coming off an injury-plagued 2019, Cooks was limited to 42 receptions for 583 yards and two touchdowns across 14 games for the Rams. It was the first time since his rookie campaign the 26-year-old failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a single season. Currently 36th among all wideouts in the latest ECR, Cooks has the best shot of any WR3 to record WR1 numbers if he can stay healthy.
Cooks is expected to line up in the slot or be used as a deep-threat for star QB DeShaun Watson. He will have to compete with Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, and Will Fuller for targets, but given the price tag the Texans paid to acquire Cooks, expect the former 2014 first-rounder to play a key role in their offense. Cooks hasn’t lost a step physically and has been an elite wide receiver in the past. The 26-year-old is not worried about his concussion history. If he can stay healthy, Cooks will have every opportunity to once again post WR1 numbers.
– Brad Camara (Beerad30)
Will Fuller (HOU): WR35
Fuller is currently ranked as the WR35 according to both ADP and FantasyPros ECR. He has the unfair stereotype of only being a deep threat. If you go back and watch the Texans’ games in which Fuller played last season, he was a lot more than that. Fuller does get deep targets, as evidenced by his 14.2 aDOT that ranked 12th out of WRs with at least 70 targets. However, I expect Brandin Cooks to fill that deep WR role with Fuller taking over as the alpha WR1. He can do it all; people just don’t think that’s true. While skeptics label him as injury-prone, I’m a firm believer that players are injury-prone until they’re not. Fuller actually averaged 6.4 targets per game with Hopkins in the mix, and Nuk’s departure leaves 150 vacated targets with Cooks and veteran slot WR Randall Cobb coming into the fold. It’s possible Fuller sees 125 targets if he plays the entire schedule. When DeShaun Watson and Fuller play together, they have been a source of high-upside fantasy goodness. With Fuller on the field, Watson absolutely balls out. According to ESPN Stats, Watson’s passer rating jumps from 89.8 to 104.3 while his QBR goes from 64.4 to 77.3 with Fuller on the field. If he finished as a top-10 WR, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
– Josh Dalley (JoshDalley72)
Michael Pittman Jr. (IND): WR64
I know what you’re thinking — it’s a stretch to project a guy currently ranked outside of the top-60 wide receivers to finish in WR1 territory. The Colts’ rookie wideout is teetering on “undrafted free agent” territory in 12-team leagues. But let me build the argument. One: good offensive lines prolong quarterbacks’ careers, and Philip Rivers is moving from one of the worst lines in the league to one of the best. Two: if you believe Rivers has something left in the tank, remember that he has produced four top-20 fantasy receivers in the past three seasons. Three: T.Y. Hilton hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2017 and is already battling a hamstring injury in camp. And four: even if you do trust Hilton’s health, he’s not a red-zone threat. Hilton hasn’t caught more than six touchdowns in a season since 2014, and he has never had more than 15 red-zone targets in a single year. At 6’4″ and all but guaranteed (at least) the Colts WR2 slot, it’s not a stretch to expect Pittman to emerge as Rivers’ preferred red-zone target. Not bad for a player you can take in the final round of your fantasy draft.
– David Giardino (@davidgiardino)
Justin Jefferson (MIN): WR54
We’d be lying to ourselves if we said Justin Jefferson wasn’t a consistent and integral piece of the 2019 LSU Tigers, one of the greatest college football teams ever to hit the field. Last year, Jefferson averaged seven receptions in his only four games without a touchdown, and his three longest receptions of his last three games amounted to a combined 148 yards. In those stats alone, Jefferson demonstrated that he isn’t touchdown-dependent and can deliver when a big game is on the line. The biggest obstacle for him will be the shift to Kirk Cousins, who is no Joe Burrow, but the commonality is their accuracy. Cousins delivered a 69.7% completion rate over the last two seasons. Stats and teammates aside, the most consistent thing Jefferson can rely on is that he will suit up to dominate in the only colors he’s ever known — purple and gold.
– Spencer Weston (@WestonPicks)
Michael Gallup (DAL): WR31
Mike McCarthy said he views Michael Gallup as a WR1, and I agree. In fact, I think Gallup is the best receiver on the Dallas roster and should be a priority on draft day. Some might worry that his target share is in danger, but with Dake Prescott continuing his ascension, Gallup is poised to build on a terrific 2019. Despite the addition of CeeDee Lamb and the presence of Amari Cooper, Gallup will still see plenty of work. McCarthy has notoriously ran three-receiver sets as part of his primary formation, and Gallup was Prescott’s most reliable target down the stretch. Gallup finished in the top-15 among wide receivers in yards per reception, yards per target, and yards per route run last year, making him an elite downfield threat. If Gallup finishes the year with a top-10% outcome, he will be a shoo-in WR1 and the best bargain of any receiver drafted this year.
– Jason Kamlowsky (@JasonKamlowsky)
Darius Slayton (NYG): WR41
I am surprised there has not been more optimism for Slayton this offseason. In the final 10 games of his 2019 rookie season, he averaged 11.5 fantasy points per game and was the 22nd-ranked fantasy wide receiver. He had this success despite the Giants going with Eli Manning for four games and rookie Daniel Jones for 12. Slayton looked great at times last year, averaging 15.4 yards per reception and scoring eight touchdowns. He had three games where he tallied more than 80 yards, and he also had three games where he scored two touchdowns. The Giants are not expected to do much this year; most people still view them as the third-best team in the NFC East. It’s a flawed team, but Slayton is one piece of an exciting offense. Slayton will probably need to jump to 13.0 fantasy points per game to be in the WR1 discussion. That is a big leap both in additional production to sustain for a full season, but he showed last year that he could be up to the task. It is an inexpensive roll of the dice with Slayton currently having an ADP of 101 and 39th among fantasy receivers.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Tyler Boyd (CIN): WR30
Tyler Boyd has finished as a top-25 receiver each of the past two seasons, and now he gets to catch passes from the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Sure, it’ll take time for Boyd and Joe Burrow to develop chemistry, but I’m not worried about that as much since Boyd operates mostly out of the slot. In fact, he played over 60% of his snaps in the slot in 2019, and Burrow had an affinity for throwing to the slot receiver at LSU. In his two years with the Tigers, he threw to the slot guy on over 20% of his passes. The recipient of many of those targets, Justin Jefferson hauled in 111 catches – 27 more than teammate Ja’Marr Chase, a projected 2021 first-round pick – last season as the Tigers’ primary slot receiver. If Burrow wants to succeed early and often in the NFL, you better believe he’ll look Boyd’s way a ton.
The Bengals have upgraded their receiving corps heading into the 2020 season, but A.J. Green and Tee Higgins should actually provide more space for Boyd to operate, as they draw the safety away from the middle of the field. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think Boyd could see 150 targets on his way to over 100 catches this season. Yet in order to become a true WR1, he’ll have to up both his yardage and touchdown totals from years’ past. He’s never gone over 1,046 yards or seven touchdowns in a season. In half-PPR leagues, Boyd will likely need to crack the 1,100-yard mark with at least seven TDs to become a top-12 WR, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility this season. Operating with a rookie quarterback certainly brings about some risk, but there’s also a golden opportunity for Boyd to become Burrow’s go-to option very quickly. Boyd genuinely has a shot to become a WR1 this season.
– Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler)
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