With so many fantasy relevant wide receivers heading into the NFL draft, I had no choice but to list 30 incoming rookies that could be important at the next level and for our fantasy teams. I have previously discovered that receptions per game in college makes for a nice filter when identifying fantasy WR2s or better in the NFL. That, along with breakout age and projected draft capital, were the three-pronged criteria I used to rank this class.
This article will feature the front of the class, WRs 1-15 by my ranking. Even the consensus studs have some warts (Jeudy/Lamb a low BMI, Reagor’s final season was meh, etc) but it is certainly very deep. There’s something for everyone, so take a peek and see who to flag as we proceed to the summer.
Breakout Age (BOA)
For this metric I used the age at the midpoint (Nov 1) of the season in which the player first exceeded 20% of their team’s market share of receiving yards and TDs.
I had to make some assumptions (noted by an asterisk) about breakout age since you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a confirmed birthdate for these players! Those dates should be more readily available after the combine. For those that I could not find a birthday I assumed each entered their freshman year as an 18 year old.
Projected NFL Draft Round
It is no surprise that NFL draft capital means a lot for future fantasy production. I have read many mock drafts from around the internet including the great work put out by The Draft Network, Razzball’s own Reid Kashmanian, and others.
At this time, the projected draft round is my opinion based on what I have read (again, marked by an asterisk). However, I tried to take into account the likelihood these players hit certain draft capital marks, and bake that into the overall rank. There have been whispers this year that the draft will be WR heavy and possibly a historically large number of WRs will be selected in the first 3 rounds. I don’t think there will be 30 WRs taken by the end of Day 2 but if that is even close to accurate, there will be more draftable rookie wide receivers than ever before.
Finally, while I am not a “film guy” I do value what tape analysis brings to the table. There is a lot of quality information from film watchers on Twitter and Razzball’s own B_Don is currently breaking down film in his 2020 NFL Draft Preview Series—I make notes when they get really excited about a player. There are certain things that pique my interest for WRs such as fighting off press coverage, versatility, and successfully creating/using leverage.
I also can’t deny that this exercise is a blend of art and science, so for tiebreakers there is an element of personal preference or subjective reasoning. I hope you enjoy and can’t wait for the heat that follows!
A Personal Note on the Combine
For WRs it has been shown that most combine metrics do not help us to project fantasy success. Typically measurements matter only because of the effect on how teams rank players, which impacts projected draft slot. Perceived changes in draft capital will be the main reason combine results change my rankings. For example: I won’t think of Henry Ruggs III differently if he runs a 4.13. But that result could send shockwaves through the NFL and all of a sudden we’re hearing he’s a top 10 lock. That matters more than the forty time itself, and could impact the post-combine ranking.
|Rank||Name||School||Receptions per game||Breakout Age* (>20% MS)||Projected NFL Draft Round*|
|WR6||Justin Jefferson||Louisiana State||5.3||19||1-2|
|WR8||Bryan Edwards||South Carolina||4.9||17||3-4|
|WR9||Henry Ruggs III||Alabama||2.9||n/a||1-2|
|WR10||Isaiah Hodgins||Oregon State||5.2||20||3-5|
|WR11||KJ Hamler||Penn State||3.8||19||2-4|
|WR13||Lynn Bowden Jr.||Kentucky||3.8||19||4+|
|WR14||Brandon Aiyuk||Arizona State||3.9||21||2-4|
Tier 1 – Safest and Best
WR1 – CeeDee Lamb
Much has been made of late about his probable low BMI (<26). Likely to show up 6’2″ and 195 pounds, his body type is rarely seen in an elite NFL wideout. That’s not to say he can’t be awesome, but like with many prospects, there are warts. In the end, his spectacular production and high draft status ensure he’ll be a top pick for rookie drafts as well. I don’t feel the need to “zig” here, and will fall in line with many other rankers with Lamb as my WR1.
WR2 – Jalen Reagor
After a spectacular sophomore season Reagor came crashing down in 2019 as the TCU offense took a step back as a whole. He still managed to have a 29% market share as a junior and had almost twice as many receiving yards as the next in line. He will impress in all the events and most people seem to be confident he’ll be off the board before the 3rd round. That combined with the bonus of punt return expertise make Reagor a tantalizing fantasy prospect.
WR3 – Jerry Jeudy
The offseason has not been kind to Jeudy as he is no longer a consensus WR1, and many have dropped him further. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t lead the WR room on your own team the year before declaring. The meager market share is worrisome, although most film analysis says he has minimal flaws as a prospect. Like Lamb, his BMI will probably come in low adding some more doubt into his future star potential. I see him as a very safe player, probably one who will have multiple years as a WR1 in fantasy. Something about him doesn’t scream perennial stud, though.
Tier 2 – Floor Concerns
WR4 – Laviska Shenault
Here we start a tier 2 group that I think all have as much upside as anyone in this class but each comes with reason to believe their floor is lower than the group ahead. Shenault truly checks every major box I could ask for, including exceeding the most exclusive RPG threshold. Like Reagor and Jeudy, he took a step back from his sensational sophomore season but unlike Jeudy he will easily pass the BMI test. The tale of the tape with Shenault is that he may be more of an athlete and less of a true alpha WR. I like his versatility in the modern NFL and think the league is ready to feature his skill set. The concern would be that he’s just beefcake Tavon Austin.
WR5 – Tee Higgins
The only thing holding me back from putting Higgins in the top tier is a surprisingly low RPG, finishing behind his own (younger) teammate Justyn Ross. Everything else looks great including the fact he has 25 receiving touchdowns in his final 2 years at Clemson. He gets the nod as WR5 because I think if he develops his craft, there is WR1 potential here. The film crew cite a lack of physicality and raw nature to his game, which could explain the volume issues.
WR6 – Justin Jefferson
Definitely a riser for me as I worked through this class, he was quietly good even before Burrow’s historical 2019 season. While the Tigers were still trying to get the engine to turn over in 2018, Jefferson still earned a 31% market share as a true sophomore. Of course, 2019 was an entirely different story as LSU laid waste to the entire country and the stats speak for themselves. He’s got a good frame, but may come in underweight. I like him as a “jumbo slot” in the NFL, and think he can be a very productive compliment to an X WR1.
Tier 3 – Sneaky Good
WR7 – Denzel Mims
Mims really caught me by surprise during this evaluation period. As a 4 year player, one red flag is already planted in his camp but looking under the hood, there is some exciting machinery. He broke out with a 32% market share as a true sophomore, turning in a 61-1087-8 campaign. The next season saw a surprising regression as transfer Jalen Hurd took over as Baylor’s top receiver. Taking back his throne as a senior, he heads to the combine with arrows pointing up. Despite playing out his full allotment of college seasons, the teenage breakout has me excited and I think he has WR1 potential in an NFL offense.
WR8 – Bryan Edwards
Once my 2020 WR2, Edwards has now fallen on hard times with a broken foot and won’t get to participate in the combine. This really hurts his draft potential in a very deep class with a lot of players worthy of at worst a 3rd round pick. I genuinely believe he has stud makeup but can’t deny that falling out of day 2 hurts. Additionally, I am not sure if he’ll be behind in summer workouts as he heals from this injury. I don’t want to drop him lower than WR8 for now because the I think his ceiling is massive. There’s wiggle room though as we see how the spring shakes out.
Tier 4 – Complimentary Pieces
WR9 – Henry Ruggs III
Ruggs is the inverse Bryan Edwards for me, as probable draft capital is the only thing keeping him this high in the rankings. Yes, he is fast. He might break the combine record for the forty! I don’t care about that for fantasy purposes when he never even reached a 20% market share at Alabama. As fantasy managers we do not get points for speed, so it really makes no difference if he can beat Usain Bolt in the 100 meter. Will Ruggs see 7+ targets a game? His college use says that’s unlikely. If he’s a first round pick, I can’t knock him much lower but I also don’t see myself drafting him.
WR10 – Isaiah Hodgins
I really like the numbers Hodgins quietly put up in his career. Oregon State will occasionally pump out solid NFL players (Steven Jackson, Brandin Cooks, etc), and he may be next in line. His junior year was spectacular, ending with 1171 yards and 13 touchdowns, good for a 41% market share. He technically broke out as a sophomore although the raw numbers weren’t as gaudy. If he can be a day 2 selection I like him as a late 2nd round rookie pick, with some pleasant upside.
WR11 – KJ Hamler
Like Ruggs ahead of him I think Hamler has a very slim chance of being a consistent WR1 in the NFL. Receivers under 180 pounds are rarely able to see the volume needed, although a Desean Jackson career would be best case scenario. If you search his highlights there are some truly unbelievable moves on display, and I can understand the excitement surrounding him. Hamler was also a fantastic punt returner for the Nittany Lions, meaning he should be appealing to NFL teams right away.
Tier 5 – If Everything Goes Right…
WR12 – Antonio Gandy-Golden
Here we have the first small school candidate to enter the ring. AGG has a create-a-player physique, and his stats make it look like he was playing on Freshman level in NCAA on PS3. The only knocks on him from a metrics standpoint is the fact he finished 4 years while playing at small school Liberty, although they did make the FBS jump in 2018. His 2019 game log shows 4 games against bowl eligible teams (Buffalo, Louisiana, BYU, and Virginia) where he put up a combined 30-466-4. Then in his own bowl game registered a 5-63-1 line against Georgia Southern. This is by no means a murderer’s row but shows his competition wasn’t total garbage. The combine will let us know if he has some baseline athleticism to belong in the NFL and could boost his somewhat tenuous draft stock.
WR13 – Lynn Bowden, Jr.
I didn’t want to rank Bowden this high but a really nice career is hidden beneath his 2019 season where he was forced into playing option QB for the Wildcats. For 18 games between his sophomore and junior season he captained Kentucky’s passing attack as their go-to receiver. Then, for his last 8 games he dominated his teams rushing attack… as a QB. Strange times. Bowden is truly electric, but I almost wrote him off as a project pipe dream. I really got interested after realizing he was a legit receiving threat during that 18 game stretch where he averaged 5.5 RPG. He is a very, very exciting prospect and even if he gets buzzy I think will be a value in rookie drafts all summer.
WR14 – Brandon Aiyuk
The junior college transfer came out of nowhere to make Sun Devil fans forget about N’Keal Harry in 2019. In fact, he had more yards last year than Harry ever had in a season! Being a late breakout, senior receiver won’t make him a favorite of any metrics models but he certainly made noise when he got a chance. There is legitimate helium attached to him his winter and some projections have him as a late first round NFL pick. At the moment that is what is keeping him in the top 15, and could help him climb further if others lose steam.
WR15 – Gabriel Davis
Despite being on the 2017 “national champion” UCF Knights team, Davis is not getting a ton of buzz heading into the NFL. He popped for me during the past season getting over a 30% market share as a junior and scoring 12 times. When I looked at his career, he also qualified for a breakout as a true sophomore in 2018 which puts him in great company. His career receptions per game (RPG) is also very close to the 4.6 threshold, shooting him to the top of this group. Testing at the combine will be important to have him pop for the NFL decision makers and generate some buzz to lock in that all important draft capital.
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