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Who are the 2020 League-Winning Wide Receivers?

A couple of weeks ago I went in search of what exactly a league-winning running back looked like. By looking at some data from the ESPN “Most Common Players on Championship Teams” and comparing preseason ADPs vs. final rankings, the candidates emerged: young players (still on their original contract) with high draft capital on new offenses (either a new head coach or OC).

So, using the same tools, I decided to look at wide receivers. The picture is not as clearly defined as the running backs but there is one clear similarity: youth. Of the 21 players that fit the various “league-winning” profiles, the majority were 25 years or younger with four or less years of experience.

I reviewed the following sources from a three-year period (2017-2019):

· ESPN’s “Most Common Players on Fantasy Championship Rosters”

· FantasyPros Final Season Rankings PPR points/game

· Fantasy Football Calculator 12 team, PPR ADPs

There were several groups of players that started to emerge after comparing these different variables. Below is a description of each group, some prior examples, and some 2020 candidates.

WR1 groups - These are players that finished the year ranked in the top 12 in points/game

· “Made the Leap” WRs – Young receivers (25 years or younger, 4 or less years experience) that were ranked in the preseason ADP range of WR7-12 but finished in the top six.

Examples: Keenan Allen (2017), Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill (2018)

2020 Candidates: Kenny Golladay (current ADP WR7), D.J. Moore (WR13), JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR11)

My Pick: Kenny Golladay.

With the current ADP, he would basically have to be WR1 in order to give you that type of league-winning value that Davante Adams had in 2018. He is going to need to see a similar jump in targets that Adam saw that year. He went 117 in 2017 to 169 in 2018. Golladay had 116 last year. If he can get to 150 targets (from Stafford), he might have a shot.

D.J. Moore also was in serious contention. One common factor that the trio of Adams, Hill and Adam Thielen all add in their 2018 jumps was improved QB play (Adams got Rodgers back, Hill got Mahomes and Thielen got Cousins). You would think it is a safe assumption that Bridgewater will be an improvement over Kyle Allen.

· “Young Stud WRs at a discount” – These are young players (most with four years or less experience) that already had a WR1 season but were not being drafted in the top 12 at the position.

Examples: Deandre Hopkins (2017), Davante Adams, Adam Thielen (2018), Allen Robinson (2019)

2020 Candidates: Surprising I only found two: Cooper Kupp (WR15), Stefon Diggs (WR26)

My Pick: Stefon Diggs

With two WR1 finishes in the last three years, Diggs looks like a potential steal at his current ADP. Whatever risk there is with the switch to Buffalo and Josh Allen seems to be baked into the WR26 ADP. But he’s shown the talent and should be the unquestioned alpha of that WR group.

I will not fault anyone for picking Kupp. With a WR7 finish last year, he is definitely being drafted lower than he’s shown. I am just really worried about the finish to the season last year and wonder if that is closer to the new normal. But if you believe that was an aberration, then you are getting a tremendous value at current ADP.

· “Old Stud WRs at a discount” – There were just two examples that I found in this time period. Larry Fitzgerald in 2017 (34 years old, 13 years experience), Julian Edelman (32 years old, 8 years experience)

2020 Candidates: A.J Green (WR27), Julian Edelman (WR30), Keenan Allen (WR24)

My Pick: Allen. I know he technically does not fit here but he is in that middle ground where he does not fit in the younger group either. I am just amazed that a 28-year-old WR with three straight WR1 finishes has a current ADP of WR24. Drafting Allen in the middle of the 5th round and watching him roll to another WR1 finish is the type of boring move that wins leagues.

But I also would not rule out a return to glory for Green with a new QB in Burrow or a continued WR1-level success from Edelman with Cam Newton at QB. Both look like good values hiding among all the younger guys this year.

· “Rising Stars” – These were the receivers three years or less experience that finished in the top 12 without any prior WR1 finishes.

Examples: Tyreek Hill, Adam Thielen (2017), JuJu Smith-Schuster (2018), Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay (2019)

2020 Candidates: This is the big group with names like Calvin Ridley (WR16), A.J. Brown (WR17), D.K. Metcalf (WR19), D.J. Chark (WR20), Terry McLaurin (WR23), and Courtland Sutton (WR25).

My Pick: Terry McLaurin.

If you are one of the five people who regularly read my tweets, first, thank you! Also, you will know that McLaurin is one of “my guys” this year. One of the obvious keys to making this type of jump into the WR1 tier is targets. Here were the target counts of the others who made the jump: Thielen (142 in 2017), JuJu Smith-Schuster (166 in 2018), Chris Godwin (121 in 2019 in 14 games). Of the six above, I think McLaurin has the clearest path to the highest target share and total targets. When you add in the fact that he has the speed to get deep (4.35 40) and had the #1 contested catch rate in the league, there is a lot to get excited about.

Of the other five, I’d probably lean D.J. Chark next. I think he had one of the quieter top 20 seasons that you will see. I think he is in for a bunch of targets this year and could really hit if Minshew is for real. But honestly, I could see any of these six breaking into the WR1 tier.

WR2 groups - These are players that finished the year ranked in the 13-20 range in points/game AND had an ADP at least 13 spots lower than where they finished.

The key here is getting a WR2 at great value, basically a full tier above where they were picked.

· A few even have prior WR2 seasons (Stefon Diggs, 2017, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, 2018). Basically, these are the players that people have not bought into or thought were flukes.

2020 Candidates: DeVante Parker (WR29), Tyler Boyd (WR34), Will Fuller (WR36), Michael Gallup (WR33)

My Pick: Tyler Boyd.

I have been a big fan of Boyd. He’s proven he is not role-dependent (either #1 or #2 w/ Green), QB-dependent (produced with Driskel and Finley as QB) or scheme-dependent (1,000-yard seasons with different OCs). Now he is getting a potentially huge QB upgrade with Burrow. Sign me up.

· Most of these players are young (two years or less experience) but have a path to a decent target share.

2020 Candidates: Marquise Brown (WR28), Deebo Samuel (WR35), Diontae Johnson (WR37), Darius Slayton (WR41), Mecole Hardman (WR43), Christian Kirk (WR46), Hunter Renfrow (WR61), Allen Lazard (WR62), N’Keal Harry (WR54), Preston Williams (WR55), Anthony Miller (WR51)

My Pick: N'Keal Harry.

This is a close group that is full of some popular sleepers. You could make a case for any of these guys finding a way into the top 20 with some breaks. I will just go with the guy who only has a 34-year-old in front of him for targets.

· They can seemingly come out of nowhere. Of the 12 players that fit these criteria, 5 did not even have ADPs. However, all five had high draft capital at some point (either 1st or 2nd round picks).

2020 Candidates: Parris Campbell, Andy Isabella, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, James Washington

My Pick: Parris Campbell.

I will just take the incredible athleticism combined with the potential for Rivers to feed him close targets.

· Only one was a rookie (JuJu Smith-Schuster, 2018).

2020 Candidates: CeeDee Lamb (WR40), Jerry Jeudy (WR42), Henry Ruggs (WR44), Justin Jefferson (WR47), Jalen Reagor (WR48), Michael Pittman (WR57)

My Pick: Ceedee Lamb

. As an Eagles fan this kills me to write it. But you can imagine Lamb having a JuJu-type rookie season playing next to Cooper with Dak as his QB. You even have Gallup playing the role of Martavis Bryant by being his perceived target competition.

Even if you don't agree with my specific picks, hopefully this will at least give some guidance in how to find your next league-winning wide receiver(s). Good luck!

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