Should You Target Rookie WR’s or Vets for Your Dynasty Team? (Part 1)
Chad Workman / @tweetsbychadfw
Rookie wide receivers have gotten a lot of dynasty hype during the off-season, with many clamoring about how this is the best class we have seen in some time. While that could be true, there are many questions surrounding rookie wide receivers every year, but especially in the year of COVID-19. This has led many analysts to suggest sticking with veterans this season. Solid advice, but as always you need to balance youth with veterans. So, is there a sweet spot to target somewhere in between the youngins entering the league and the old grizzled veterans? Of course there is, most notably, second year wide receivers who are offering tons of value.
If you think the list of incoming rookie wide receivers is impressive, take a moment to think about last years class. We saw A.J. Brown grow into a man amongst boys, we saw Terry McLaurin shine in an otherwise dark offense, we saw Darius Slayton come out of nowhere for a Giants team lacking a true #1 wide receiver. I could keep going but you get the point. We also saw some receivers disappoint, most notably J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. And of course, some receivers showed flashes but haven’t fully put it together yet, and others saw their seasons cut short due to injury. But you probably already know that, so let’s look at some factors that might help us evaluate these players going forward.
Note: The players profiled are in order of current ADP at DynastyLeagueFootball, not necessarily my rankings.
Coming out of Ole Miss, A.J. Brown checked many of the boxes that teams were looking for in the draft. At 6’0” and 226 lbs, running a 4.49 40-yard dash, Brown has the size and speed combination to excel at the NFL level. He possesses quality draft capital, going with the 19th pick of the 2nd round, but was quickly overlooked due to his landing spot. Brown has become a prime example of looking at talent over situation when it comes to dynasty.
Nobody will mistake Brown for a burner, but he does posses enough speed and above average elusiveness to run away from NFL defenders. We saw this on display many times throughout his rookie season, evidenced by his 20.2 yards per reception (YPR), only trailing Mike Williams (20.4) in that category last season. The elite YPR, along with an 8.8 yards after catch (YAC) average which was good for fifth in the NFL, catapulted Brown to a rookie season with 1051 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. In addition, Brown carried the rock 3 times for 60 yards and 1 touchdown, providing further evidence of his running ability. This man does not go down easy.
Video - AJ Brown vs CLE (2019)
There’s not much left to be said about Brown, he is a certified stud. Many are predicting a regression this season, and there likely will be in some categories. His 20 yards per reception may go down, but he will almost certainly see an increase in targets and improved efficiency from his QB. I am a Ryan Tannehill believer, and even if you’re not, there’s no denying the improvement we saw from Brown after Tannehill took over the offense. Brown saw 3.8 targets per-game with Mariota at the helm but saw 6.1 targets per-game with Tannehill under center. His snap percentage also jumped from 50% through the first six weeks, to 80% through the last ten. I expect him to be well over 80% this season.
Brown’s dynasty ADP is currently sitting at WR8 and 23 overall, which is a bit high, but I believe Brown will deliver at that cost considering his long-term outlook. Going ahead of guys like Golladay, Evans, Beckham and Allen Robinson, which I think is just right. Brown’s ADP seems pretty spot on, so while he won’t be cheap, he is worth the investment.
D.K. Metcalf, perhaps the bigger name wide receiver coming out of Ole Miss in 2019, made his name known primarily for being a workout warrior and athletic anomaly. Clocking in at a 4.33 40 time at the combine, Metcalf tied for third fastest amongst wide receivers. The guy he tied with is just a speedy 5’10” wide receiver out of Georgia named Mecole Hardman (we’ll get to him later). The difference between the two being about six inches and 41 pounds. Metcalf also benched 27 reps, which tied for first in the wide receiver class with N’Keal Harry, placed third in the vertical jump amongst wide receivers at 40.5, and leapt to the fourth best broad jump in the wide receiver group. I mean, look at these measurables.
(Photo Credit: RotoViz)
Metcalf ended up “falling” to the end of the second round, further than many projected. But it wasn’t all bad considering Metcalf landed in Seattle, pairing him with future (2020?) MVP Russell Wilson. Metcalf finished the season with 900 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns, a very solid rookie campaign. The one blemish on his measurables, seen above, is his short area quickness, which can be a cause for concern in terms of getting out of his breaks and running a full route tree. The Seahawks didn’t ask much of him early in the season in terms of his route tree, but as you can see from the NFL Next Gen Stats, they certainly did in the two playoff games. Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told local radio show Chuck and Buck in the Morning that he was blown away by what Metcalf accomplished in his rookie year. He also stated, “there’s so many more routes he can run. The flexibility of moving him around, introducing some different route concepts that we could kind of get him up to speed on that will protect or complement the things that he’s put on film will just be an incredible, incredible advantage for us as we head into the next season."
(Photo Credit: NFL NextGen Stats)
Metcalf finished the regular season with an average of 6.3 targets per game, just behind teammate Tyler Lockett’s 6.9. However, over the final six weeks after the bye, Metcalf received 36 targets to Lockett’s 34. Not a huge difference, but when a rookie out-targets the trusted veteran, we should take notice.
Metcalf’s dynasty ADP is currently sitting at 37, 15th amongst wide receivers. This is a bit too low, as he is going after Allen Robinson and aging superstar Julio Jones. With his upside, I would take him over either. I don’t anticipate Metcalf’s current owner in your existing dynasty league is looking to give him up, but if you can buy at this cost, do it now. Wait, do it after you finish reading the rest of this article instead.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
Okay, so we all agreed that Metcalf’s ADP is too low, right? Good. In that case, Terry McLaurin’s ADP of 52 (WR 23) is criminal. He’s going behind two rookies in Jerry Jeudy and Cee-Dee Lamb who we’ve barely seen in their new NFL threads, and who would be thrilled to post numbers similar to “Scary Terry” in year one. Now, I am excited to see each of those players and am bullish on their upside, but McLaurin is the real deal, and I’ll tell you why.
McLaurin showed solid workout metrics leading up to the NFL Draft, and went with the 12th pick of the third round to the Washington Redskins who would later become the Washington Football Team. No seriously, that’s their name now.
McLaurin finished first among rookies in targets (93), target share (22.7%), and air yards (636), while finishing second in receptions (58), receiving yards (919), and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (7). As my colleague Andrew Woodruff points out, along with other excellent observations seen in the image on the left, he put up these numbers in just 14 games.
Despite playing just 14 games, McLaurin finished the season as WR24 in standard scoring, and as WR29 in PPR scoring with subpar quarterback play. He had similar production before and after Haskins took over, but Haskins should continue to improve and develop. And of course, with Haskins being McLaurin’s college quarterback at The Ohio State University, they have a strong connection that’s only going to improve in their fourth year playing together, and second in the NFL.
I would be remiss if I did not mention McLaurin’s excellent route running abilities. The guy is fluid, cuts well in and out of breaks, and is a burner with a 4.35 40 time, which is in the 98th percentile. Last year, he was in the 89th percentile with a 76% success rate vs. man coverage, and in the 93rd percentile with a 79.7% success rate vs. zone coverage. This is all great stuff, but he’s not ALWAYS going to be able to separate at the NFL level. Well, it’s a good thing he also led the league in contested catch rate. What can’t this guy do? Play quarterback, I guess. Sorry Washington Football Team fans.
If you’re not already making trade offers in your leagues for McLaurin, then I thank you for focusing solely on this article, but as soon as you are done reading, go check in on McLaurin’s price tag. If you can get him for the price of his current ADP of 52, do it. If you are drafting a start-up, take him higher than that and cash your checks at the end of the season.
The first wide receiver taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, Marquise Brown, went to the Ravens with the 25th overall selection. Brown’s nickname of “Hollywood” stuck when he toasted Oklahoma State in 2017 going 9 for 265 with a pair of touchdowns. During one of his scores, announcer Gus Johnson yelled out “Hollywood” as if everybody already knew that was his nickname. Now we know.
One of the smallest wide receivers in the league, Brown came in at just over 5’9” and 166 pounds at the combine. While he did not run at his pro day or the combine due to a foot injury, we already knew he could fly. He reportedly clocked a 40 time of 4.32 prior to those events.
Always a big play threat when he is on the field, “Hollywood” found the end zone 7 times in his rookie season. However, his yardage total of 584 was a bit of a letdown for a first-round pick, though he did miss two games. He saw 19% of the teams targets inside the redzone, and 20% of the teams targets inside the ten yard line. Brown also stepped up in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, going 7 for 126, including this one-handed grab that proves he doesn’t just possess great speed, but great hands as well.
Video - Marquise Brown vs TEN (2019)
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman stated that Brown had a great offseason physically, and there have been plenty of other reports supporting that as well. He did have surgery after the season concluded to remove the screw in his foot and has been rehabbing since. One thing dynasty owners are hoping for from his offseason regimen is some added weight, which could help him stay healthy.
Overall, I was disappointed in Brown’s rookie season, but as mentioned above, he didn’t appear to be fully healthy. Brown is a player that is somewhat boom or bust, often going for big plays but also not getting involved in some games. Brown recorded receiving yards of 1, -2, 6, and 15 with no touchdowns in four of the last five games of the regular season. This is not a guy who I want to rely on as my WR2 or WR3, which is where he is being drafted in dynasty leagues. I do expect Brown to improve upon his rookie season, and obviously this draft spot is with his high upside, long-term outlook in mind, but I’d rather pass on that ADP, and take Robert Woods, Jalen Reagor, or Michael Gallup, all going after him. The question marks surrounding Brown are magnified when you consider that the Ravens posted the highest rushing play percentage last year at 54.07, and the lowest throwing percentage at 45.93. Brown does have upside, even in this offense, and is certainly worth betting on at a lower price point, but I’m reluctant to buy at this price point.
Coming out of South Carolina, Deebo Samuel was the second wide receiver taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, going 36th overall to the 49ers. Playerprofiler shows his workout metrics, rating in the 70th percentile in his speed score, burst score, 40-yard dash, and catch radius.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
Deebo was, and maybe still is, on his way to becoming a star in the league. Unfortunately, he has already faced a list of injuries in his time in the NFL, the latest of which will likely keep him out for the beginning of the NFL season. Deebo suffered a groin strain in week 6 and a shoulder sprain in week 11. Currently, Deebo is recovering from a broken foot suffered this offseason. There are some conflicting reports out there on his timeline for a return. Deebo himself has said it will take 10 weeks for him to be back, others have reported that this injury will require 16 weeks, which would leave him on the sidelines for the first three or four weeks of the season. The timeline would make a big difference in his redraft value, but for dynasty not as much. Regardless, he certainly carries some risk regarding his injury history.
Deebo wasted little time making his presence felt in the Niners offense, popping off in week two for 86 yards and 1 touchdown. He suffered a few down weeks, but was mostly reliable for the NFC Champions, topping 100 yards in three separate games, and going over 75 in a couple others. Deebo finished the regular season with 802 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns, chipping in 159 yards rushing with 3 more touchdowns on the ground. 961 scrimmage yards with 6 touchdowns makes for a great rookie campaign, especially knowing that he played 15 games, leaving a couple of those with an injury.
Deebo boasted a catch rate of 70.4%, best among rookie wide receivers. His 802 receiving yards were second by a 49ers rookie, sliding in just behind Jerry Rice, and his 961 yards from scrimmage are the most ever by a 49ers rookie. You can see that Deebo’s route tree has him running all over the field and getting touches in different ways, which is a huge plus to his value. Kyle Shanahan is going to be creative and find different ways to get Deebo the ball. And those rushing yards we discussed are not a fluke, we will see more of that this season and beyond.
(Photo Credit: NFL NextGen Stats)
Going as WR31 and 63rd overall, Deebo’s ADP is a bit low. He’s sandwiched between DeVante Parker and Tyler Boyd, which is fair, but he is going after the aforementioned Marquise Brown, and also Tyler Lockett, but I would prefer Samuel at this cost. Deebo was going at 43 overall at the end of the season. Perhaps the injury situation is the cause for concern here, and that is fair, but if you’re in a startup dynasty league shooting for some young talented players, I wouldn’t shy away from Deebo. The movement in ADP feels like an overreaction, and an opportunity for you to buy him if you can afford to wait around for him to get healthy.
Diontae Johnson was the 10th wide receiver taken in this class, going with the second pick of the third round, 66th overall. Landing in Pittsburgh, who had a first round grade on Johnson, was an ideal landing spot for the 5’10” 183 pounder out of Toledo. We know how the Steelers have drafted and developed wide receivers over the years. In fact, Johnson compares favorably to a former Steelers wide receiver who was often in the news for all the wrong reasons. Now, to be clear, Diontae Johnson is probably not as good as Antonio Brown, but check out this combine comparison, courtesy of my colleague Matt Nein.
Still not convinced? Check out another graphic from Matt, this one on their usage in the offense with AB’s metrics coming from his last season in the black and yellow.
(Photo Credit: Sharp Football Stats)
Now once again, I’m not saying that DJ is as good as AB, but it seems Pittsburgh is using him in the same way, and the similarities in their makeup are striking. Not to mention, Johnson is a smooth and silky route runner, not so different from AB.
Before I get too deep into this and criticized for saying DJ is the next AB (he’s not…probably) let’s remove AB from this equation. Last year, Johnson went for 680 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns, playing a full 16 games. Johnson posted a target share of 19% last year, which was fourth best among all rookie wide receivers, and he led all rookie wide receivers in receptions. Keep in mind that he did this with, and all due respect to Mason Rudolph who can take a helmet to the head and Duck Hodges, horrific quarterback play.
Now, insert Big Ben. Whether Roethlisberger will return to form or not remains to be seen, but regardless he will provide an upgrade. Last year, the Steelers attempted 510 passes for a passing play percentage of 57.84%, good for 23rd in the league. In 2018, under Big Ben, that percentage was at 67.39% when they attempted 689 passes, good for second most in the league. Over the Steelers last five seasons, prior to the Rudolph and Hodges circus, they attempted an average of 615 passes per season. If Johnson hits a 20% target share, only up 1% from last year, and the Steelers hit the average of 615 passes, Johnson would register 123 targets. 123 targets last year would have ranked 19th in the league, and rough math suggests that on 123 targets, with his catch rate of 64.1%, he would have tallied about 78 receptions. At 11.5 yards per reception, that puts him at 906 receiving yards.
I don’t know if Big Ben will return to form, and I don’t know if the Steelers throw the ball as much as they have over the past five seasons Big Ben was healthy, but it goes to show the upside that exists with Johnson. And, that’s only giving him a 1% bump in target share, but I would expect more. We should also expect more of his targets to actually, you know, be on target.
Johnson’s current dynasty ADP is 80th overall, as WR38, and is one of my favorite buys this off-season. Not only would I draft him sooner than that, I would trade some of the guys being drafted higher straight across for Johnson, like Henry Ruggs for example. One last factor that increases Jonson’s value is Juju’s impending free agency next off-season. If you only take one thing away from this entire article, let it be that the time to buy Diontae Johnson is now.
*Part 2 coming on Tuesday, August 11*