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By the Numbers

Depth Chart Analysis: WR/TE Pre-Draft Notes

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: April 22, 2020, 12:49 am ET

The NFL draft annually provides a much-needed boost of energy to the football-less offseason drag. However, I'm of the opinion that we tend to overrate the year-one readiness of rookies. Obviously these players will have an impact on the field in 2020, but the league will still be overwhelmingly shaped by its crop of veterans.

This is particularly true at the WR position. Literally twice as many rookie RBs (26) have finished as top-24 PPR performers than WRs (13) since 2010. Just two rookie TEs (Rob Gronkowski and Evan Engram) finished as top-12 fantasy producers.

We can essentially limit our list of fantasy-relevant rookie WRs to those that are drafted inside of the top-three rounds. There have only been two rookie WRs drafted outside of the first three rounds that finished as a top-24 PPR performer since 2010: Mike Williams (the Tampa Bay one) and Tyreek Hill. The latter player undoubtedly would've been a day one selection if it wasn't for off-the-field issues.

2020 presents a unique challenge due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We're moving forward under the assumption that the season takes place, but at the very least it seems likely these rookie WRs won't get a chance to build chemistry with their QBs until late in the summer at the earliest.

By combing through NFL rosters and 2019 usage we can begin to get an idea of what players have the best chance at earning a premiere role in their respective passing games. Below I breakdown every team's WR and TE groups in an effort to figure out both who will emerge as top pass-game targets, as well as to pinpoint teams that could best foster a productive rookie receiver. Physical data is courtesy of NFL.com and PlayerProfiler.com, alignment information is from Pro Football Focus while each WR's target share and air yard market share is provided by the fine folks at AirYards.com.

Arizona Cardinals

Position WR Height Weight Speed Tgt Share Air Yard Share YPRR
Left DeAndre Hopkins 73 214 4.57 0.3 0.34 1.99
Slot Larry Fitzgerald 75 225 4.48 0.2 0.21 1.4
Right Christian Kirk 71 201 4.47 0.23 0.31 1.41

WR Breakdown: I wrote shortly after the offseason's biggest blockbuster trade that the 2020 Cardinals now look a lot like the 2019 Browns due to their plethora of skill-position talent and still-meh offensive line.

Of course, this is more from a wins-and-losses perspective than an indictment on Kyler Murray or DeAndre Hopkins. The first overall pick of the 2019 draft improved as his rookie season went on and is more-than-worthy of extreme fantasy exposure thanks to his sky-high rushing floor.

Nuk's standing among the league's top-fantasy WRs is a bit more questionable. Sure, the man has posted WR1 production with the overwhelming majority of the circus crew of QBs that he's played with since entering the league in 2013 ...

... but he's also used to being the no-doubt No. 1 option in his offense's passing attack. Consider that Hopkins has at least 150 targets in each of the past five seasons; Antonio Brown (4), Julio Jones (3) and Allen Robinson (3) are the only other players with more than two-such seasons during this span.

Kirk was the Cardinals' No. 1 WR in 2019. His average of 8.3 targets per game would be good for 133 targets when extrapolated over a 16-game season. It'd be surprising if Nuk's per-game average isn't higher; just realize this is a somewhat crowded offense attempting to work in a high-volume receiver that won't have as much time as usual to get on the same page with his QB during this unique offseason.

Obviously both Fitzgerald and Kirk (the subject of trade rumors) are going to have to fight harder for targets now. The potential for Arizona to use a high-round pick on the position, combined with the likelihood that some of Andy Isabella (please), KeeSean Johnson and/or Trent Sherfield get more involved, gives the rest of the Cardinals' pass-catching talents a relatively low ceiling ahead of 2020 despite the potential for the offense as a whole to take a big step forward.

TE Breakdown: The Cardinals utilized 4-WR sets at a league-high rate in 2019, although they still had a TE on the field more plays than not. The problem from a fantasy perspective was that Maxx Williams consistently split snaps with Charles Clay. The latter player is a free agent, but the presence of both Dan Arnold and Darrell Daniels will likely again render this position mute as far as fantasy is concerned.

Atlanta Falcons

Position WR Height Weight Speed Tgt Share Air Yard Share YPRR
Left Julio Jones 75 220 4.39 0.25 0.37 2.44
Slot Russell Gage 72 184 4.55 0.12 0.11 1.18
Right Calvin Ridley 73 189 4.43 0.17 0.27 1.69

WR Breakdown: Ridley has had at least eight targets in eight career games. He's posted the following stat lines:

  • 7 receptions-146 yards-3 TDs
  • 6-71-1
  • 8-93-1
  • 8-105-1
  • 5-88-1
  • 8-143-1
  • 6-85-1
  • 8-91-0

The Falcons have 71 more available targets than the next-most barren passing game. Ridley has the talent, available opportunity and QB to be the 2020 version of 2019 Chris Godwin.

Julio led the NFL in yards per route run in each of 2015 (3.04), 2016 (3.12), 2017 (3.08) and 2018 (2.93). He ranked "just" fifth in 2019 after averaging 2.44 yards per route run. Jones turned 31 in February and averaged a career-low 8.9 yards per target last season, but his reduced performance was still good enough to function as the PPR WR3. Continue to treat Jones as a locked-in high-end WR1 until we see any evidence that he won't see upwards of 150 targets.

Slot WR Russell Gage averaged a healthy 7.3 targets per game after Mohamed Sanu was shipped off to the Patriots. The problem was inconsistent snap usage, as Gage played fewer than 60% of the offense's snaps in 4-of-9 games. The addition of Laquon Treadwell, combined with the likelihood that the Falcons draft a WR at some point, makes it unlikely that Gage carves out a consistent fantasy-friendly role in this offense.

TE Breakdown: The potential for ex-Ravens TE Hayden Hurst to see a near every-down role seems likely considering the Falcons parted ways with a second-round pick in order to acquire his services. I'd caution in expecting Hurst to repeat Austin Hooper's absurd early-season production from 2019; Hooper averaged 76.5 targets per season during 2017-2018 and posted an overwhelming amount of his production with the Falcons trailing. This isn't to suggest Matt Ryan and company won't spend plenty of time behind on the scoreboard in 2020, but just realize the ceiling for Hurst is as the passing game's No. 3 option.

Baltimore Ravens

Position WR Height Weight Speed Tgt Share Air Yard Share YPRR
Left Miles Boykin 76 220 4.42 0.06 0.12 1.1
Slot Willie Snead 71 195 4.62 0.1 0.11 1.07
Right Marquise Brown 69 166 0 0.18 0.23 1.81

WR Breakdown: The Ravens are a popular contender to add an early-round receiver in the draft. This would seemingly impact Boykin and Snead more than Brown, who emerged as a true boom-or-bust specialist as a rookie. Overall, Hollywood posted 4-147-2, 7-126-0, 8-86-0 and 4-80-1 blowup lines to go along with 11 performances that didn't produce even 50 yards.

Ultimately, the league's most run-heavy offense isn't a great bet to enable multiple fantasy-relevant WRs – particularly when the team's No. 1 pass-game option will continue to play TE. Having exposure to anyone inside of the league's reigning No. 1 scoring offense isn't a bad idea, although Lamar Jackson's astronomical 9% TD rate is almost certain to regress.

Brown has the speed and big-play ability to make the most out of inconsistent usage. Betting on another WR to see enough volume to post consistent fantasy production seems like wishful thinking, particularly if/when the Ravens add another body to the room. 

TE Breakdown: Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle are locked in as the offense's top-two TEs now that Hayden Hurst is with the Falcons. It's tough to rank Andrews outside of the top-four TEs ahead of 2020. Jackson fed his trusty No. 1 receiver at least six targets in all but four games last season, and Andrews has demonstrated enough elite ability with both the ball in his hands as well as in contested-catch situations to continue to warrant high-end fantasy appeal. George Kittle was the only high-usage TE to average more yards per route run than Andrews (2.89) managed in 2019. I'd only take Kittle and Travis Kelce before Andrews in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes.

Buffalo Bills

Position WR Height Weight Speed Tgt Share Air Yard Share YPRR
Left John Brown 70 179 4.34 0.24 0.38 1.97
Slot Cole Beasley 68 177 4.54 0.22 0.19 1.64
Right Stefon Diggs 72 195 4.46 0.21 0.41 2.69

WR Breakdown: I'm a fan of the Josh Allen experience. This doesn't mean I believe Allen is a great QB, but it's tough to deny the man is fun to watch play football for better and for worse.

Literally anything can happen when Allen is under center. Consistently accurate passes haven't been one of the more-common outcomes (via Player Profiler):

  • True passer rating: 87.7 (No. 19 among all QBs)
  • True completion percentage: 64.7% (No. 33)
  • Play-action completion percentage: 63.6% (No. 24)
  • Red-zone completion percentage: 49.1% (No. 46)
  • Deep-ball completion percentage: 25% (No. 33)
  • Pressured completion percentage: 17.1% (No. 34)
  • Clear completion percentage: 67% (No. 34)

Brown (PPR WR20) and Beasley (WR34) were both good-not-great fantasy assets in 2019. Both are almost certain to regress due to the presence of Diggs, who figures to be the alpha of the group after being acquired for first-, fifth- and sixth-round picks.

Diggs is the definition of an elite field-stretching talent; his 635 yards on deep passes (targets thrown 20-plus yards downfield) in 2019 were the fifth-highest single-season mark over the past decade (PFF). He's more than capable of making the most out of a limited workload. Still, Allen isn't quite Kirk Cousins when it comes to deep-ball accuracy, and Diggs is now facing the most competition of his career when it comes to targets.

Don't expect a player of Diggs' caliber to be held in check for long once the season gets starts. Big games will happen. Just keep your expectations in check for the No. 1 WR of a crowded run-first offense with a typically-erratic QB under center.

TE Breakdown: Dawson Knox flashed as both a blocker and receiver as a rookie, although a position-high nine drops were hardly ideal. The team's trio of high-end WRs, combined with the potential for any of Tyler KroftLee SmithTommy SweeneyJason Croom or Nate Becker to steal snaps, restricts Knox to nothing more than a boom-or-bust low-end TE2 despite the potential for a second-year leap. In fantasy football it's best to chase opportunity, not talent.

Carolina Panthers

Position WR Height Weight Speed Tgt Share Air Yard Share YPRR
Left D.J. Moore 72 210 4.42 0.23 0.31 2.03
Slot Curtis Samuel 71 196 4.31 0.17 0.3 0.97
Right Robby Anderson 75 190 4.41 0.18 0.34 1.37

WR Breakdown: The entire Panthers Offense is a bit of a mystery with Teddy Bridgewater under center and new coaches Matt Rhule as well as Joe Brady calling plays. Expect recently #paid RB Christian McCaffrey to continue to receive all the carries and targets he can handle, but things are a bit of a mystery otherwise.

The most-likely scenario for this offense seems to be Moore and Anderson on the outside with Samuel operating out of the slot. Let's make one thing clear: Samuel wasn't miscast as a field-stretcher in 2019; Kyle Allen was miscast as a starting QB. Anderson also sure didn't receive a lot of help in terms of catchable targets. The presence of Bridgewater, who threw downfield at the league's lowest rate in 2019, won't help anybody's air yards, but at least the league's single-worst offense in catchable deep balls should see a few more accurate passes this time around.

Moore is just 23 years old and has already demonstrated the ability to operate as a true No. 1 WR. His ability to thrive in the underneath and intermediate areas of the field makes him a prime No. 1 option for Bridgewater on the outside. It *should* be a long time until we treat Moore as anything other than a fantasy WR1.

It remains to be seen whether Samuel or Anderson will seize the No. 3 pass-game role. No. 4 WR Seth Roberts has the potential to be annoyingly involved as well. I'm most willing to gamble on Samuel.

The Panthers have anyone's idea of the NFL's worst defense. The NFC South should once again be home to plenty of shootouts. Each of CMC and Moore should again have every opportunity to prove their place among the league's top-producing receivers, while Samuel and Anderson could post more sporadic production in this sneaky-crowded passing game.

TE Breakdown: Ian Thomas has routinely flashed in the past when Greg Olsen missed time. The problem is that Bridgewater didn't make a habit of involving Jared Cook during his time under center in 2019, instead force-feeding the likes of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara to his heart's desires. Thomas is one of many late-round TEs that have the ability to provide high-level production, but he might be too far down this offense's totem pole of target share to put together a big season.

Chicago Bears

Position WR Height Weight Speed Tgt Share Air Yard Share YPRR
Left Allen Robinson 74 220 4.56 0.27 0.39 1.82
Slot Anthony Miller 71 201 4.55 0.15 0.2 1.4
Right Javon Wims 75 215 4.53 0.09 0.15 0.65

WR Breakdown: The Bears have one of the best-pure WRs in the league at their disposal in Robinson.

Of course, A-Rob hasn't had the luxury of playing with what some might call "good" QBs throughout his career. Specifically, Robinson has caught passes from Mitchell TrubiskyChase Daniel, Blake Bortles and Chad Henne since entering the league in 2014. The man was subjected to Christian Hackenberg in college for crying out loud.

Thus, calling Nick Foles the best QB that Robinson has ever had the privilege of catching passes from is hardly an understatement. His status as the PPR WR14 in average draft position (ADP) seems to be a bit closer to his floor considering he was the PPR WR8 in 2019.

And then we have Miller, who caught seven TDs while playing through a bum shoulder as a rookie before coming on strong during the second half of 2019. Overall, Miller posted 6-54-0, 6-77-0, 9-140-0, 3-42-1 and 9-118-1 receiving lines from Weeks 11-15, working as the PPR WR8 along the way. It's not fair to simply take the best stretch of a player's career and assume that he can replicate it moving forward, although Miller seems to be going under the radar just one season after everyone talked themselves into Dede Westbrook based on Foles' historical usage of slot WRs.

The absence of Taylor Gabriel leaves the Bears with only two pass-game options that have played at a consistently high level in recent seasons. The potential for a bounce-back season from Foles makes both A-Rob and Miller undervalued assets at their current ADPs. Wims will likely be the biggest loser if/when the Bears add another WR through the draft. Riley Ridley has the potential to steal some snaps.

TE Breakdown: The Bears currently employ the following American citizens as TEs: Jimmy GrahamDemetrius Harris, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted, Eric Saubert, Alex Moran, Dax Raymond and Darion Clark. Only one of those names is actually a fictional TV character. The likelihood that Graham (#washed) leads the way in snaps and targets makes this a position to stay far, far away from in fantasy land.

Cincinnati Bengals

Position WR Height Weight Speed Tgt Share Air Yard Share YPRR
Left A.J. Green 76 211 4.5 N/A N/A N/A
Slot Tyler Boyd 73 197 4.58 0.24 0.25 1.65
Right John Ross 71 188 4.22 0.18 0.34 1.95

WR Breakdown: Joe Burrow has a sneaky-talented quartet of pass-game options at his disposal in 2020:

  • Green has gained over 1,000 yards and scored at least six TDs in every season of his career that has consisted of more than 10 games.
  • Boyd has cleared the 1,000-yard mark in back-to-back seasons and has proven to be a force out of the slot.
  • Ross posted electric 7-158-2 and 4-112-1 lines to start 2019 before (again) missing time due to injury.
  • Auden Tate made a slew of fantastic contested-catch snags throughout the year and finished second on the team in yards per target.

AJG-Boyd-Ross-Tate is the easy projected order here, but don't underestimate the potential for a new QB under center to shake things up. Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard and the team's TE group will also be plenty involved.

It's fairly comical that Boyd is being drafted so close to Green. Still, Ross seems like the best price-adjusted value at the moment. Each of these WRs are more than capable of demanding high-target volume, but it's best to check our expectations all the way around ahead of a lightly-prepared season with a rookie QB under center.

TE Breakdown: C.J. Uzomah could inherit a full-time role with Tyler Eifert now in Jacksonville. Still, he's caught at least five passes in just 7-of-61 career games. The potential for any of Drew Sample, Mason Schreck or Cethan Carter to steal snaps gives Uzomah a low floor and ceiling alike.

Cleveland Browns

Position WR Height Weight Speed Tgt Share Air Yard Share YPRR
Left Odell Beckham 71 198 4.43 0.25 0.38 1.81
Slot Jarvis Landry 71 205 4.65 0.26 0.29 2.04
Right KhaDarel Hodge 74 198 4.63 0.02 0.04 0.79

WR Breakdown: Landry was better than OBJ in basically every meaningful category in 2019. Overall, Landry and Beckham finished as the PPR WR12 and WR25, respectively.

The good news is we can again expect this offense to be fairly condensed in the passing game. Landry (71 targets), Beckham (66) and Kareem Hunt (44) were the only players with more than 20 targets in eight games after Hunt returned to action.

Perhaps the larger potential issue is total pass-game volume. Coach Kevin Stefanski ran a tight ship with the Vikings in 2019, ultimately feeding No. 1 pass-game target Stefon Diggs a pedestrian team-high 94 targets. High-priced addition TE Austin Hooper will certainly be plenty involved in what could very well be a run-first offense.

I've always been an OBJ stan. Unfortunately, I have a hard time believing he bounces back in 2020 and posts top-10 production if this offense resembles what the Vikings were running in 2019. This offense is overflowing with competent pass-game options, and Mayfield hasn't shown a penchant for force-feeding anybody.

Perhaps Stefanski's offense was heavily influence by boomers Mike Zimmer and Gary Kubiak. If not, expect Landry and OBJ to resemble 2019 Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs: extremely talented WRs that could fail to provide consistent WR1 production due to their crowded run-first offense.

TE Breakdown: Hooper could feasibly find himself in a quasi-committee system with David Njoku. After all, Kyle Rudolph (48 targets) and Irv Smith (47) were nearly equally involved in Stefanski's offense last season. Hooper is a great real-life TE; his status as fantasy's No. 1 option at the position to start last season isn't likely to occur again anytime soon. There's a chance he finishes behind each of Landry, Beckham and Hunt in targets.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.