News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Dark horse wide receivers with top-10 potential in 2020

What do Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson and Kenny Golladay have in common? They were all top-10 PPR wide receivers last season who outperformed their average draft position (ADP) by at least 10 spots among wide receivers.

Player ’19 ADP ’19 Fantasy Finish
Chris Godwin WR16 WR2
Cooper Kupp WR19 WR4
Allen Robinson WR32 WR8
Kenny Golladay WR20 WR9

These wide receivers had varying levels of preseason hype, but they all smashed expectations and significantly beat ADP. They were the dark horses of the top-10 wide receiver group — the other six (Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Julian Edelman and Amari Cooper) had ADPs inside the top-14 WRs.

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It is critical to identify wide receivers with positional top-10 upside throughout fantasy drafts, especially after the first few rounds. These are the players who win fantasy championships. Who will be this year’s Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson and Kenny Golladay?

The following four wide receivers are prime candidates. Each has an ADP outside the top-20 but could easily finish the 2020 season inside the top-10.

Terry McLaurin (ADP WR23, this year’s Chris Godwin)

The Terry McLaurin hype train is full steam ahead, with his ADP steadily creeping up over the last month, currently at WR23 and climbing. His PFF consensus ranking is WR20, with Ian Hartitz most bullish at WR16. Coincidentally, Godwin had last year’s preseason WR16 ADP.

Godwin was hardly a dark horse in the traditional sense, but even his biggest fans could not have foreseen 19.7 PPR points per game and the overall WR2 finish. Godwin's 2019 season represents the high-end of potential outcomes for a player who had shown legitimate upside. McLaurin exhibits many of the same qualities as Godwin heading into last year. In fact, the numbers behind their respective 2018 and 2019 seasons are eerily similar.

PFF Grade Targets Catches Yards TDs YPRR Contested catch rate
Godwin 2018 80.4 91 59 842 7 1.87 52%
McLaurin 2019 85.7 91 58 919 7 2.05 60%

McLaurin recorded an 85.7 PFF grade in his incredible rookie season (sixth-best among all WRs). Among all rookie WRs since 2006, only Odell Beckham Jr. has recorded a higher grade than McLaurin. For all the question marks surrounding Washington’s quarterback situation, passes to McLaurin generated a stellar 118.3 passer rating (12th). All other Washington throws earned a paltry 74.7 rating. McLaurin is the engine of Washington’s passing attack.

McLaurin is due to improve upon last year’s seven TDs. He had seven close-range targets from inside the 10-yard line but only scored one TD. Compare that to teammate Steven Sims, who also had seven close-range targets yet scored four TDs. There was a 40% TD expectation for every close-range target in the NFL last season, putting McLaurin two TDs shy of the league average. His role in scoring range was elite, with 10 end-zone targets (12th-most). Positive touchdown regression is coming for McLaurin.

PFF's fantasy projections slot McLaurin at WR20 with a conservative 109 targets, 65 catches, 1,072 yards and seven TDs. There is huge upside potential here if his targets or efficiency improve. Additionally, do not discount the possibility of Dwayne Haskins experiencing a second-year jump of his own. Washington’s strength of schedule rates as the second-best in the league for QBs.

The driving forces behind Godwin’s breakout were spikes in targets and efficiency, both of which are expected for an ascending second-year wide receiver of McLaurin’s caliber. PFF's Ian Hartitz wrote about the underrated possibility that McLaurin could flirt with 150-plus targets in 2020, emphasizing that Washington has minimal competition for No. 1 pass-game duties.

McLaurin averaged an impressive 10.1 yards per target last season (12th). His efficiency would probably decline somewhat with a sizable target spike, but 130 targets at nine yards per target would give him 1,170 receiving yards. McLaurin’s top-10 potential becomes clear when factoring in his lucrative red-zone role.

Like Godwin, McLaurin is hardly sneaking up on anybody this year. Yet we still might be underestimating his top-10 (and potentially even top-5) upside.

Stefon Diggs (ADP WR25, this year’s Allen Robinson)

The fantasy community is seemingly down on Diggs because of his trade to Buffalo, where he will experience a notable QB downgrade from Kirk Cousins to Josh Allen. The Bills surrendered a first-round pick for Diggs, presumably because they want an alpha receiver that boosts Allen’s game. Diggs was Captain Kirk’s best friend last season thanks to sublime efficiency, averaging 2.69 yards per route run (second) and a whopping 12.4 yards per target (third).

He was the league’s premier deep-ball receiver and led the league with 16 catches, 635 yards and six touchdowns on throws targeted 20-plus yards downfield. The deep ball is a critical aspect to Diggs’ game, and establishing a downfield connection with Allen is the only path for a potential top-10 fantasy finish. Diggs’ average depth of target last season was 15.6 yards (ninth), which complements Allen’s substantial 9.8-yard average depth of target (fourth).

We will save the Josh Allen debates for another day, but Allen Robinson’s WR8 fantasy finish with Mitchell Trubisky proves that a top-10 WR season is possible without quality QB play. Robinson’s dominance was largely due to an exorbitant 153 targets (second), as he had middling efficiency with a 64% catch rate, 1.82 yards per route run and 7.5 yards per target.

John Brown and Cole Beasley represent quality secondary receiving options, but neither is a threat to Diggs’ alpha role, and both are best served as complementary players. The Bears comp extends here, too, considering Anthony Miller had 81 targets working as the No. 2 downfield receiving option, and Tarik Cohen had 102 targets operating in the short field.

Diggs is probably not going to see 150 targets, but he can make up the difference via his signature monster downfield plays — he has 47 catches of 20-plus yards (eighth) and 25 catches of 30-plus yards (fourth) since 2017. PFF’s projections are very low on Diggs from a production and usage standpoint at 8.0 yards per target on 110 targets, but the volatile nature of his play could lead to several spike weeks that blast past his projections and WR25 consensus ranking and into the top-10 wide receivers.

Courtland Sutton (ADP WR26, this year’s Kenny Golladay)

Sutton is coming off a beastly second-year breakout, with a 72-1,112-6 line on 115 targets and an 83.1 PFF Grade (10th). Despite Sutton’s near universal recognition as a budding superstar, the fantasy community is surprisingly lukewarm on his 2020 prospects. Sutton’s WR18 PFF consensus ranking is propped up by Andrew Erickson’s generous WR7 ranking; Kevin Cole (WR18) is the only other PFF analyst to rank Sutton among his top-20 wide receivers.

In fact, Sutton’s current situation seems oddly familiar to Kenny Golladay’s 2019 preseason outlook. Golladay was also widely considered to be a blossoming stud coming off a monstrous second-year breakout, but his ADP topped out at WR20. Fantasy owners who bought high on Golladay were handsomely rewarded with a WR9 season.

Projections are optimistic on Sutton’s usage at 125 projected targets, which is precisely the type of workload that had the fantasy community salivating over him prior to the NFL Draft. He is a dynamic downfield receiving threat capable of ripping off chunk plays — Sutton had 10 catches (10th) and 427 yards (sixth) on targets 20-plus yards downfield in 2019. He is also electric after the catch, forcing 16 missed tackles last season (fourth).

Sutton was uber efficient last season, with 9.7 yards per target (21st) and 2.08 yards per route run (12th) — perhaps we are underrating his ability to sustain that production. He also could be a huge beneficiary of a much-improved Broncos offense that creates more touchdown opportunities.

Sutton had one of the premier scoring-range roles in football last season with 35 red-zone targets (fifth), nine targets inside the 10-yard line (fifth) and 12 end-zone targets (sixth). Yet he only scored six touchdowns. Sutton is a strong candidate for positive touchdown regression in 2020, which could be the driving force for a potential top-10 fantasy finish — like Golladay’s 11 touchdowns in 2019.

Tyler Boyd (ADP WR34, this year’s Cooper Kupp)

Boyd’s inclusion on a list of dark horse candidates with top-10 upside contradicts the fantasy industry’s perception of Boyd as a high-floor and low-ceiling wide receiver. His 2019 season tells that exact story — a WR18 fantasy finish while averaging 13.9 points per game (WR26). Boyd’s consensus ranking is WR30, with Andrew Erickson highest at WR19.

Boyd’s efficiency numbers were severely hampered by the fact that the Bengals had the league’s second-worst offense last season per PFF grades. Boyd had a mammoth 142 targets in 2019 but only averaged 7.4 yards per target (75th) and 1.65 yards per route run (42nd). Failing to produce WR1 numbers on 142 targets is discouraging — among all wide receivers with at least 125 targets, only Odell Beckham Jr. averaged fewer fantasy points per game than Boyd. This pessimistic sentiment is precisely what makes Boyd a dark horse.

From a total production standpoint, Boyd has been the NFL’s premier slot receiver since 2018 — his 1,509 slot receiving yards are 220 more than anyone else. He has accomplished that feat while catching passes from the trio of Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley and Jeff Driskel. Enter Joe Burrow, who holds the key to a Boyd breakout — he guided Justin Jefferson to a slot receiving line of 109-1,518-18 at LSU in 2019.

Quality QB play from Burrow and the return of a healthy A.J. Green are crucial to a Boyd breakout, as this would elevate the entire Bengals offense. Green was last healthy in Weeks 1-8 of 2018 — a stretch in which Boyd ranked as the overall WR12.

Last season, Boyd had 31 red-zone targets (12th), which he turned into five TDs. However, those targets dried up in scoring range — he had just four targets inside the 10-yard line and two end-zone targets. Boyd will need a larger role in scoring range to approach top-10 upside. Again, the key is Burrow’s affinity for the slot at LSU in 2019 — Jefferson had 11 targets inside the 10-yard line (most on the team and fifth-most among all WRs in college football).

Cooper Kupp led the league with 853 slot receiving yards and rode his 10 TDs to a top-10 fantasy finish last season. He is a stud on an offense that emphasizes the slot — since 2018, the Rams have 371 slot targets (fourth). Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is a Sean McVay disciple and used 11 personnel on a league-high 77% of snaps last season.

Envisioning a top-10 fantasy finish for Boyd is more challenging than the other three wide receivers discussed here, but his severely depressed WR34 ADP makes him a true dark horse.

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