Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football rankings: The 2020 WR Class (No. 20-16)

Nov 1, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver K.J. Hamler (13) runs the ball on a reception in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The hype around the NFL's incoming wide receiver class is warranted, thanks to the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. But the 2020 NFL wide receiver draft class was one for the ages: Justin Jefferson set the record for most receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era, while CeeDee Lamb, Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins and Brandon Aiyuk all emerged as legitimate fantasy contributors in Year 1. 

Still, the 2020 wide receiver class goes far beyond just the top tier. A plethora of talent is waiting to bust out in Year 2. It will be crucial to fantasy football success in 2021 to hit on these talented second-year receivers. 

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This series of articles will break down the top-20 second-year wide receivers for fantasy football. This first group didn't quite break out as rookies but showed enough to be on the radar heading into Year 2 across best ball, redraft and dynasty formats.

20. WR QUINTEZ CEPHUS, DETROIT LIONS

Nobody is talking about Quintez Cephus even though he has been impressing at Detroit's offseason minicamp. Coaches have cited his route-running and separation skills as vastly improved since his rookie year. 

The second-year wideout is more infamous for his surprising nine targets during the opening week of last season. The target volume came out of nowhere for a rookie playing his first NFL action (no preseason in 2020). Unfortunately for Cephus, he looked overwhelmed trying to step in for alpha wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who was out with an injury. 

The rookie had some awful drops and never looked to be on the same page with Matthew Stafford that game. He was only able to haul in three of his nine targets for 43 yards. However, Cephus' early-season struggles did not last forever, as he refined his skills in the second half of the season.

From Weeks 13-17, Cephus tied for fifth in his draft class in yards per route run (2.03) and hauled in all of his catchable targets. His ability to create separation against defenders — an area where he thrived at the collegiate level — was on full display in the Lions’ Week 17 finale against the Minnesota Vikings.

Cephus’ final game was easily his best as a pro. He earned a career-high PFF grade (78.0) and compiled 51 receiving yards. But even those accomplishments don’t do Cephus justice — he was routinely beating his man off the line of scrimmage and getting open downfield. 

You can see him lined up at the top of the screen below.

Stafford opted to check it down, but Cephus hit paydirt soon afterward.

Stafford had Cephus deep down the left sideline another time in this game but barely overthrew him.

The Lions have the most available targets and air yards from last season, so there is an opportunity for Cephus to carve out a substantial role in Year 2. He has already shown improvement, which should give him a chance to rise up a Lions depth chart that includes the likes of Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Kalif Raymond and Day 3 rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown

19. TYLER JOHNSON, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Tyler Johnson didn’t grade particularly well in his first season, but he flashed signs of upside throughout the year. Johnson posted the team’s highest passer rating when targeted (142.4) and stepped up big in a spot-start Week 5, catching four of five targets for 61 yards filling in for Chris Godwin

Johnson also flashed in the postseason with an insane grab on a back-shoulder pass against the New Orleans Saints. Some view him as only a slot receiver, but Johnson has shown he can win on the outside at the NFL level.

For dynasty truthers like myself, Godwin’s return to Tampa on the franchise tag presents the perfect “buy-low” opportunity to acquire Johnson. Godwin could easily be gone a year from now if the two sides can’t work out a long-term deal, and there’s no guarantee that a 33-year-old Antonio Brown will maintain his 2020 production next season.

The Bucs selected another college mega-producer in Jaelon Darden this year — he's probably a bigger threat to Johnson’s 2021 outlook. If Johnson falls behind Darden on the depth chart, there may not be any way to come back. 

18. WR COLLIN JOHNSON, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Looking for the league’s next red-zone weapon? Introducing 2020 fifth-rounder and 6-foot-5 monster Collin Johnson. The big-bodied Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver finished ninth last year among all wide receivers in target rate per route run inside the 10-yard line (39%) and led the team in yards per route run (1.60).

The Jaguars have the third-most vacated targets and fourth-most vacated air yards from last season — there is an opportunity for Johnson beyond the team’s presumed top three receivers, Laviska Shenault Jr., D.J. Chark Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr

With zero tight ends of relevance to speak of (lol Tim Tebow), Johnson could carve out a role as the team’s primary red-zone option, which would lead to several spike weeks of fantasy production. 

Still, don’t necessarily pigeonhole Johnson as only a red-zone threat. He is deceptively fast when running downfield and could easily take on a role as “big-slot” on the inside of the formation. 

In the two games he played last season with a 50%-plus snap share, Johnson led the team in 20-plus yard targets.

17. WR DONOVAN PEOPLES-JONES, CLEVELAND BROWNS

Donovan Peoples-Jones needs to be scooped up at the end of best ball drafts and off dynasty waiver wires

The sixth-rounder out of Michigan tied for third with Tee Higgins among the 2020 receiver class in yards per route run (1.83) when the Browns’ two postseason games are included in the sample. In regular-season games only, he finished 10th in yards per route run (2.34) and first in yards per reception (21.7). Overall, Peoples-Jones finished with the fifth-highest receiving grade (73.1) among the rookie class.

There's a path for DPJ to emerge as the Browns’ No. 3 WR — his main competition for playing time is veteran Rashard Higgins and third-round rookie Anthony Schwartz. His experience on the perimeter and big-play ability second among all WRs in deep-ball yards during Weeks 13-15 should provide the edge to win the job outright. 

16. WR K.J. HAMLER, DENVER BRONCOS

K.J. Hamler saw his fair share of poor passes last year (68% catchable, 61st), as did teammate Jerry Jeudy (59% catchable, third-worst). So any upgrade at quarterback from the super-inaccurate Drew Lock will do wonders for the former second-round pick's fantasy outlook in 2021.

Hamler operated primarily from the slot (66.2% slot snap rate) in 2020, and new Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater fed his slot receiver, Curtis Samuel, last season with the Carolina Panthers

No quarterback posted a higher adjusted completion percentage to the slot than Bridgewater (83.1%), and no receiver had a higher catchable target rate than Samuel (86%). Lock’s adjusted completion percentage ranked dead last (61.5%) in 2020.

Fusing Hamler’s explosive 4.25 wheels with more accurate passes will result in some huge fantasy weeks. That type of high-upside performance was on full display when Hamler erupted against Carolina last season.

Despite seeing only three targets, Hamler caught two long touchdowns. His raw speed is just too much for most defensive backs to hang with. 

Hamler is a popular receiver to label as “better in a best ball,” but he’s going to offer much more than spike weeks in 2021. The hope is that a more accurate quarterback under center will allow Hamler to operate underneath and rack up more receptions. His 10.9 aDOT was the lowest among Denver's primary receivers last season.

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