Should You Target Rookie WR’s or Vets for Your Dynasty Team? (Part 2)
If you have not read Part 1, please go back and do so here.
Note: The players profiled are in order of current ADP at DynastyLeagueFootball, not necessarily my rankings.
Many analysts and fantasy owners were extremely high on Mecole Hardman after he was selected by the Chiefs late in the second round. It’s hard to know if most of this hype was based on the player or his situation. After all, he entered an offense with a young quarterback who looks like he will be one of the best of all time. In addition, many pegged him as a Tyreek Hill replacement, as Hill was going through some legal troubles at the time of this selection. The charges against Hill were ultimately dropped, leaving limited opportunities for Hardman in his rookie season. He finished the season with 538 yards and 6 touchdowns, playing a full 16 games.
It’s easy to see why many thought Hardman could step in for Tyreek Hill if needed. Though he couldn’t quite match Hill’s 40 time of 4.29, his 4.33 put him in the 99th percentile. The two also have a very similar stature, with Tyreek Hill listed at 5’10” and 187 pounds, Hardman at 5’10” and 185 pounds.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
What’s concerning about Harman is his college production or lack thereof. His college target share is in the 17th percentile and his college dominator is in the 19th percentile. Not great, but his breakout age is even worse because there isn’t one. Cringe.
Hardman clearly lacks consistency and reliability, but with his speed, he is always a big-play threat. He had four weeks where he did not record a single reception and three weeks where he did not record a target. His 20.69 yards per reception did not qualify as an official stat because he had only 26 receptions, but it would have otherwise bested every wide receiver who did qualify. Hardman recorded four touchdowns of 80 yards or more, including an 83-yard score and a 63 yarder. Hardman slid through the cracks and got behind the defense for his long touchdown of 83 yards, but on the 63 yarder, he caught the ball in the teeth of the defense and ran past everybody. Take a look.
Video - Mecole Hardman 63 Yard TD
Hardman’s current ADP is just about right, going 81st overall and at WR39, just one spot after Diontae Johnson. Hardman is most definitely a breakout candidate, but he does have major question marks. For one, his college production as we discussed. Secondly, his role, as this offense is loaded. The two main pass catchers are going to be Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce for the foreseeable future. The team re-signed Sammy Watkins and still retains Demarcus Robinson. They also drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire who will certainly catch passes in this offense.
Hardman is a major upside play and breakout candidate, but when will the breakout come, if at all? He will undoubtedly produce big plays, but will he ever be a weekly reliable fantasy asset? I don’t see that happening early in the 2020 season, and even if we want him to take over for Watkins, he might be too similar to Hill to start alongside him. How the Chiefs use Hardman this season will be telling. I like the player and the offense, but don’t love the usage or opportunities just yet. Ultimately, Hardman is worth betting on, but beware that he will be an upside play for a while before he comes around to be a more reliable player.
As the 19th wide receiver taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, Darius Slayton was mostly an afterthought. He went in the fifth round to the New York Giants, by way of Auburn, and wasn’t on the radar of many fantasy owners. Perhaps he should have been, as he landed in New York shortly after Odell Beckham Jr. made his exit. Slayton missed the first two weeks of the regular season due to a hamstring injury but promptly put himself very much on the radar in week three, going for 82 yards.
Slayton led the Giants in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, going for 740 and 8, respectively. While this came as a surprise, Slayton did enter the league with the qualifications to be a legit NFL wide receiver. Slayton was in the 95th percentile in both the 40-yard dash and catch radius the NFL combine.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
While nobody will mistake the Giant's offense for the Kansas City Chiefs, they do boast a collection of offensive weapons. One of the best all-around running backs in the league lines up in their backfield in Saquon Barkley, they employ a premier tight end in Evan Engram and have another couple of wide receivers in Golden Tate and Sterling Shephard who could disguise themselves as a number one wide receiver for this team. Both Tate and Shepard had some trouble staying on the field in 2019, as Tate only played in 11 games, while Shepard played in 10.
Surprisingly, Slayton performed better when both Shepard and Tate were in the lineup than when they were out. When both were out Slayton averaged 48.66 yards per game, while averaging 60.4 when both Tate and Shepard suited up. Even though Slayton led the team in receiving yards, he trailed both Tate and Shepard in yards per game, averaging 52.8, with Shepard at 57.6 and Tate at 61.45. In addition to trailing both in yards per game, Slayton finished behind them in targets per game. Slayton saw just 6 targets per game, Tate saw 7.7, and Shepard saw 8.3. The numbers don’t change much when they all played together or didn’t, Shepard and Tate saw a bigger workload regardless. Slayton however does blow the other two out of the water on yards before the catch, posting an average of 11.5, while Tate and Shepard sat at 8 and 7, respectively. This sets Slayton up for bigger plays down the field but limits his target upside in PPR formats.
The main takeaway here is that any one of these guys could be the Giant's number one receiver in 2020. Slayton’s dynasty ADP is currently sitting at 85 overall, good for WR42, which is a little rich for my blood. Again, he could be the number one, two, or three wide receivers on this team, not to mention Engram and Barkley also catch passes. Slayton does possess plenty of upside but is also a pretty big risk going ahead of guys like N’Keal Harry (he’s up next) and Brandin Cooks. He is also going three rounds ahead of his teammate, Sterling Shepard, which is too big of a gap. Slayton is worth investing in at the right price, just be prepared for the ups, downs, and uncertainty that will come with that investment.
As our last subject flew under the radar, N’Keal Harry was quite the opposite. He recorded an elite breakout age of 18.7, putting him in the 95th percentile in the category, and an impressive college dominator in 43.9% placing him in the 89th percentile in the category. Harry was also in the 90th percentile in his speed score, and oh yeah, he was selected in the first round by the greatest football coach of all time, Bill Belichick. Gearing up to catch passes from Tom Brady in his rookie season, Harry’s ADP was soaring, sitting in the low 40’s overall just after the NFL Draft. Unfortunately for Harry, and those owners drafting him that high, he suffered an ankle sprain during the preseason and was placed on the team’s IR. Harry would return later in the season, but this was a major setback for the kids development.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
Overall, Harry has fantastic measurables, the college production, and the draft pedigree (32nd overall) to shine in the NFL. With that being said, he was pretty pedestrian when he did play in his rookie season. Harry saw the field seven different times, topping 20 yards just twice. He did visit the end zone twice but failed to make any big plays outside of those two. Despite the down rookie year, Harry did show excellent hands and the ability to go up and make a contested catch at the NFL level.
Video - Harry preseason catch vs Lions
Here’s the thing about rookie wide receivers; They often struggle to adjust to the NFL right away. This class is an exception, which is why I’m here telling you all about it, but we have seen plenty of receivers struggle in their rookie year and go on to have a great career. Take Demaryius Thomas for example. He stands at 6’3” and 225 pounds, pretty close to Harry’s 6’4” and 225-pound frame. The main difference between the two is DT’s speed, but regardless, Thomas averaged 28.3 yards per game his rookie year, finishing with 283, after also being a first-round selection with high expectations. He went on to be a four-time pro bowler.
With Harry’s strong measurables, breakout age, and college production, I’d say it’s fair to label him as a post-hype sleeper. The hype surrounding him a year ago was almost as big as his new quarterbacks wardrobe. A quick google search of “Cam Newton’s outfits” is always recommended around here. Anyways, is the drop to an overall ADP of 86 (WR43) really warranted? Maybe, maybe not. There are a lot of questions surrounding New England. Will Cam stay healthy? Who will be their quarterback of the future? I do know that Harry possesses many traits of a breakout receiver, so color me intrigued at his current cost.
As a Colorado State alumnus, I knew Preston Williams was an NFL wide receiver as soon as he stepped on the field for the CSU Rams. In fact, I might have even known before then, as Williams was being hyped by teammates and media to be the next great wide receiver to come out of the school, following Rishard Higgins and Michael Gallup. Those two are the main reason Williams attended CSU after leaving Tennessee. That, and his familiarity with head coach Mike Bobo who recruited the five-star wide receiver while serving as the offensive coordinator at Georgia. Unfortunately for Williams, he was a long way removed from being that five-star recruit, having been arrested multiple times, and eventually having his NFL combine invite revoked due to his behavior off the field.
None of this dissuaded Mel Kiper from believing Williams was a sleeper first-round prospect, and one of the best receivers in the country. Spoiler alert: Williams would not sniff anywhere near the first round, instead of going undrafted. He was however a hot commodity as an undrafted free agent, and for good reason. Before going down with a season-ending ACL tear, Williams recorded 428 yards and 3 touchdowns in just 8 games.
Devante Parker experienced a breakout campaign in 2019, but Williams actually outperformed his teammate through the first 8 games of the season. Williams out-targeted Parker 60 to 52 during that time span, he had 32 receptions compared to Parkers 28, and his 428 yards were more than Parkers 400. Parker did have him beat in the touchdown category, 4 to 3, but not bad for an undrafted free agent competing for touches with a former first-round pick.
Williams will have to continue to compete for targets with Parker, but there should be plenty to go around for both, as the team doesn’t employ any other notable wide receivers. Especially with the news of Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opting out of the upcoming season. Not to mention, the Dolphins drafted a new franchise quarterback that Williams can develop and grow with Tua Tagovailoa.
Williams does not possess any elite workout metrics and is far from a burner or agile wide receiver. However, he did rate in the 91st percentile in college dominator rating and the 95th percentile in college target share. He also proved he could handle a high target share at the NFL level, and in doing so, put to rest the speed concerns by putting a lot of good football on tape. He consistently showed the ability to create enough separation with solid route running and make contested catches by high pointing the football over smaller defenders. He also has a knack for making the highlight reel with some special catches.
Williams is currently being drafted 112th overall as WR53. There are some other wide receivers going around him that are interesting, as Bryan Edwards is going just ahead of him, as is Will Fuller and Mike Williams, but Preston has already proven more than a guy like Edwards. Laviska Shenault is going a full round ahead of Williams…huh? Why? Breakout wide receivers typically come on in their second or third season and often come from a wide receiver group in flux with a questionable number one receiver. I like Parker as much as the next guy, I own him in 100% of my dynasty leagues, but he is hardly a lock to be the go-to guy in this offense. Preston Williams is a bargain at this cost.
“The two plays he made in the red zone today weren’t hybrid, gadget, slot receiver type plays. They were legit, NFL I’m-gonna-be-a-stud-receiver plays. Ran two phenomenal routes, made two big plays in the red zone.”
This is Frank Reich, Colts head coach commenting on Parris Campbell during last year's training camp, prior to Campbell’s rookie season. It’s easy to forget that Campbell was taken as the 27th pick of the second round, with the idea that he could eventually be a legitimate number one option. His workout metrics suggest he is capable, but his production in year one was minimal going for just 127 yards and 1 touchdown. Campbell suffered a multitude of injuries that slowed down his progression, so can he breakout in year two?
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
Campbell is a terrific athlete, landing in the 100th percentile for his 40 time of 4.31, the 97th percentile for his speed score of 117.2, and the 97th percentile for his burst score. Campbell’s college dominator, yards per reception, target share, and breakout age are not optimal, but he posted over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in his senior season when Dwayne Haskins took over for J.T. Barrett, who is known more for his rushing abilities than passing.
Battling through a hamstring strain, abdominal strain, a hand, and foot fracture, it’s no wonder Campbell didn’t experience a ton of success in his first NFL season. The injuries are somewhat of a concern, but he’s not a player who missed significant time in college, and he has stated that he will take better care of his body and hopes to be available for every game this season.
Five of Campbell’s 24 targets last year were in the red zone, which is encouraging for his future touchdown output. However, the team added Michael Pittman Jr. to play on the outside, and he figures to be a major red-zone weapon. In addition, Philip Rivers only targets slot receivers at a 17% clip, according to PFF. This offense projects to be high-powered with one of the best offensive lines in all of football. The team has 118 targets up for grabs or 24.2% of their target share, but that’s going to be split up between Campbell, Pittman, and even Jonathan Taylor and Trey Burton. T.Y. Hilton also saw his lowest target output of his career, but Zach Paschal saw 72 targets which will certainly go down this season, creating a window of opportunity.
Parris Campbell is going 134th overall, as WR58, and possesses much more upside than the wide receivers that are going around him. His college teammate Curtis Samuel is going one spot before him, but Campbell is a much more enticing asset in my eyes. While he does have some question marks, most players do in this range. Campbell could provide a huge return on investment at this cost and is certainly worth that investment.
The Eagles drafted JJAW with the 25th pick of the second round, which many assumed was with the idea that he would eventually replace Alshon Jeffery. Fast forward a year, and that might be the case. Jeffery is currently on the active/PUP list, and if he isn’t cleared to play before the start of the season, the team would place him on the reserve/PUP list which means he would be out for at least the first six weeks of the season. Reports out of Eagles camp are that JJAW is focusing on the X receiver role, which was owned by Alshon in recent years. Thanks again to my colleague Matt Nein, who compared JJAW and Alshon in the table below. You can see the similarities and why many of us believed JJAW would be able to take over for Alshon sooner rather than later.
New teammate Marquise Goodwin has opted out of the upcoming season, but the team drafted Jalen Reagor in the first round of the NFL Draft and will bring back Greg Ward and Deontay Burnett who each had an impact late last season. The team also added Quez Watkins and John Hightower later in the draft. In other words, this job will not be given to JJAW, he has competition. However, he’s not only competing with his teammates but the 2019 version of himself.
JJAW was a major disappointment last season, finishing with just 10 receptions on 486 snaps. He played in all 16 games but recorded a target in just half of them and totaling 169 yards and 1 touchdown. As we eluded to earlier, many rookie receivers struggle out of the gate, but they usually show some signs of life. Even with a depleted receiving core, JJAW was nearly invisible. There have been reports that he was battling injuries throughout the season, including his own recollection of needing help just to walk to the bathroom at certain times because of his lower-body injuries. Most will tell you though if you’re healthy enough to play, you’re healthy enough to make an impact. We don’t know how much his injuries slowed down his overall progression, and knowing what he is capable of, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
JJAW went for 104 and a touchdown in the team’s third preseason game, looking like the truth and even making Eagles fans forget about Alshon for a moment. I know, I know, this is only preseason, but we have seen flashes of what the kid can do. He was full of production at Stanford, going for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior season. His college production was good enough to be in the 86th percentile of college dominator with a rating of 42.7%, his college yards per reception landed at 16.8 which was in the 76th percentile, and his breakout age was also solid at 19.7, placing him in the 74th percentile.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it, JJAW was undeniably terrible last season. Going at 187 overall and WR77, he is still worth acquiring at a cheap cost and stashing him to see if he can turn it around in year two. The talent is there, the health is finally there, and the opportunity should be there. No excuses for him this time around.
Other players to keep an eye on
Jalen Hurd: Hurd was a third-round pick last year and is a great athlete who did not see the field last year due to a broken back. This offense will likely be missing Deebo Samuel at the start of the season, giving some others on the roster an opportunity to shine.
Olabisi Johnson: I am admittedly biased to have another CSU Ram on this list, but Bisi showed some flashes last year and the Vikings lost Stefon Diggs. Of course, they drafted Justin Jefferson but COVID could slow him down, and Bisi has already received 45 targets from Kirk Cousins.
Hunter Renfrow: Renfrow was quietly very good running out of the slot as a rookie, topping 600 yards and finding the endzone four times. Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson recently stated that Henry Ruggs will start in the slot this season, which likely limits Renfrow’s playing time.
Kelvin Harmon: Harmon, unfortunately, tore his ACL a few weeks ago and will miss the 2020 season. He was penciled in as the team’s number two wide receiver, and the Washington Football Team doesn’t have many quality pass catchers. If you have an open IR spot, Harmon is worth a look.
Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, KeeSean Johnson: We all know the Cardinals boast an impressive trio of wide receivers, but Fitzgerald is just about on his way out. One of these guys could emerge in this high-flying offense and that’s worth at least monitoring.